Complying with Federal Design and Accessibility Requirements, Part 2
This article is the second of a three-part series on complying with federal design and accessibility requirements. Part 1, in our June issue, explained what the requirements are and how to tell whether your site is among those that must comply with them. Part 2, below, gives you five rules to follow to ensure your buildings and common areas are in compliance with the requirements. Part 3, in our August issue, will give you six rules covering unit-specific compliance requirements.
FOLLOW FIVE RULES FOR COMPLIANCE
The following five rules will help you ensure that your buildings and common areas comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Section 504 accessibility requirements. They are based on design and construction standards that HUD says you, as a site owner or manager, may rely on to comply with both sets of accessibility requirements. If your site (or part of your site) is covered by these requirements, but does not comply, you must take action immediately, says attorney Steven J. Edelstein, an expert in Fair Housing law and HUD rules.
If you don't take immediate action to stay in compliance, you risk that a judge will order you not only to make the necessary structural changes but also to pay damages to Fair Housing groups, residents, or applicants who claim you discriminated against them by not making your site accessible, says Edelstein.
If you suspect you're not in compliance, or you want the certainty of having a reliable, professional opinion, ask a Fair Housing consultant or architect who understands these requirements to help you determine whether your site was built according to all provisions contained in HUD's approval standards, says Edelstein. If you discover that your site does not comply with all design and construction requirements, you will need to bring in a consultant or an architect to tell you what changes are necessary to fix the problems, he adds.
Rule #1: At Least One Building Entrance Must Be on an Accessible Route
FHA and Section 504 accessibility requirements state that buildings must have “at least one building entrance on an accessible route,” unless it's impractical to meet this requirement.
Entrances with steps don't meet this requirement unless there's a way to bypass them. But even if an entrance has a ramp or is flush with the walkway that leads to it, disabled residents may have trouble using it if the slope of the walkway is too great. Walkways with a steep slope can be challenging, if not impossible, to navigate with a wheelchair, notes Edelstein. As a result, individuals with disabilities cannot obtain “full use and enjoyment” of their housing as provided by law, he adds.
To comply, make sure your walkways don't slope more than 5 percent, or 1:20, which means your walkways should not rise more than one inch over each 20-inch segment. One way to bring a steep walkway into compliance is to redesign your landscaping so that a once-straight walkway curves once or twice before reaching the entrance. This lets you spread the elevation change over a longer distance.
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are unable to sufficiently lessen the slope of your walkway, you can convert your walkway into a ramp. This requires installing railings on both sides of the walkway and including edge protection and appropriate-size landings at the top and bottom. Also, your ramp must not slope more than 1:12, says Edelstein. We will tell you more about curb ramps in Rules #3 and #4, below.
Rule #2: Routes from Pedestrian Arrival Points Must Be Accessible
You must also give the public an accessible route to each covered building's or common area's accessible entrance. Often this means making sure that disabled residents can travel between your parking lot and your buildings without hindrances. But the term “pedestrian arrival point” also refers to public transit stops, passenger loading zones, public streets, and sidewalks.
Rule #3: All Walkways Must Have Curb Ramps Where Needed
FHA and Section 504 requirements state that a building's common and public-use areas must be “readily accessible to and usable by” persons with disabilities. Accordingly, you must make sure that persons with disabilities must be able to get not only from their parking spaces to their units and back but also to site amenities, such as your swimming pool, management office, business or rental center, model unit, club room, or mailbox kiosk.
To accomplish this, you must make sure your site has curb ramps, where needed, along all walkways, says Edelstein.
Rule #4: Curb Ramps Must Be Correctly Designed and Graded
The curb ramps for your walkways must be correctly designed and graded. To ensure compliance, check that:
Running slopes don't exceed 1:12;
The total vertical rise of the curb ramps does not exceed six inches, unless handrails are provided;
The curb ramps are at least 36 inches wide; and
The side flares are sloped 1:10 or less. (In some situations, depending on the design of the adjacent walkways, they must be sloped 1:12 or less.)
Rule #5: Some Parking Spaces Must Be Accessible
You must provide some accessible parking spaces at your common and public-use facilities. This lets persons with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs, drive to a facility that is not easily accessible on foot. To check whether your accessible parking spaces were built in compliance with the FHA's requirements, make sure that:
Your accessible parking spaces are at least eight feet wide, with a sign indicating accessibility.
At least 2 percent of the spaces serving covered units are accessible. If your site provides different types of parking, such as surface parking, garage, or covered spaces, remember that at least one space for each type of parking must be made accessible, even if this number exceeds 2 percent, Edelstein says. And provide at least one accessible space at each facility for which you provide parking, he adds.
The accessible route from a covered building slopes into its parking lot. Some sites’ parking lots were built without curbs. But if your site's parking lot has curbs, and lies one step (or more) below the rest of the grounds, make sure that your routes leading from accessible entrances to your parking lot slope where they meet the curb.
This way, residents who use wheelchairs can get to and from the parking lot (or other pedestrian arrival points) without having to overcome steps.
The accessible route to the parking lot leads to an access aisle. Having curb ramps connecting accessible routes to your parking lot is important for making routes accessible—but it's not enough, says Edelstein. At the points where your routes meet your parking lot, there must be a dedicated access aisle.
And you cannot let parked cars or other obstructions block the access point in any way. Access aisles are usually identified by white or yellow cross-hatched markings, warning people not to park their vehicles or leave behind articles in the area.
Each accessible parking space has an adjacent access aisle at least five feet wide.
If you provide visitor parking, there is no minimum number of accessible parking spaces you must set aside. But there must be “a sufficient number of” accessible visitor parking spaces “to provide access to grade level entrances,” says Edelstein, quoting Section 504. Also, make sure you have at least one accessible parking space at your rental office, he adds.
Fair Housing Act: 42 USC §3601 et seq.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Pub. L. 93-1121, 87 Stat. 355, as amended.
Seven design and construction requirements that covered sites must follow: 42 USC §3604; 24 CFR 100.205.