Housing Accessibility Requirements: Addressing the Misconceptions

2 minute read

Apartment communities must comply with the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and fair housing laws. But sometimes, apartment communities are incorrectly found noncompliant.

Here are the three most common misconceptions regarding accessibility in apartment housing settings.

There must be ADA apartment units. The ADA applies only to public accommodations, such as hotel rooms, restaurants and convention centers. Therefore, the ADA applies to the public spaces of apartment communities (leasing offices, parking areas), but it does not cover the actual units.

Section 504 applies to all government-subsidized properties. The design requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 went into effect for newly constructed Rural Development properties in 1982 and for HUD properties in 1988. Properties built before these dates do not have to have 5 percent of units fully accessible and 2 percent of units compliant for the hearing and visually impaired. If these older apartment communities are substantially rehabilitated, however, they are encouraged to meet those percentages.

In addition, common areas for these older properties do not need to be fully accessible; however, fair housing laws require owners to make reasonable modifications if requested by a resident.

Adaptable units that are not currently accessible are not in compliance with the FHAA. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) requires that buildings built after March 13, 1991, have seven specific design features that allow an owner to quickly adapt a unit if someone with a physical disability needs accessible features. For these buildings, all ground-floor units must be adaptable, all units in elevator buildings must be adaptable and all common areas must be completely accessible. If these units are adaptable—even if they are not currently accessible—then the property is in compliance with the FHAA.

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