Apartments and ADA; Where is ADA Applicable?

The location and applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  requirements for new apartment projects (commonly called multi-family residential) is one of the most common questions I routinely answer. It is also a common source of misunderstanding among many individuals. Recently, as an attendee to a seminar on accessibility requirements, I watched as a nationally recognized building code expert identified a significant number of locations in a typical apartment project where “ADA” would be applicable. He said this in a ballroom packed with plans examiners, inspectors, and building officials. The good news was that it didn’t have an impact upon these individuals, because they weren’t responsible for enforcing ADA requirements (because they are a Federal Statute). Regardless, for any apartment project, knowing exactly what the word ADA means and how it will specifically impact the project is important for many individuals to know.


ADA Americans with Disabilities Act versus Accessible

“ADA” versus “Accessible”

One of the first things to understand is this; the word “ADA” is not interchangeable with the word “accessible”. For now, let’s not get mired down with defining “adaptable” vs. “accessible”. This is an entirely separate discussion. For purposes of this discussion, let’s stick with the terms “ADA” and “accessible”. These two words are used interchangeably on such a regular basis, that most individuals think they are one in the same. This was the issue with the seminar speaker and is one that I hear quite often.

In the context of buildings, the words “accessible” and “accessibility” are the broad terms used to reference a variety of accessibility requirements. These requirements are often enforced by a number of entities (municipal, state, and Federal) in combination and overlapping with each other. As an example, for privately funded apartment projects, it is common for there to be three applicable accessibility standards; ADA (Federal), FHA (Federal), and Building Code (Municipal/State).

In the context of buildings, the word “ADA” is the specific term used to generally reference the distinct Federal accessibility requirements associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Where and how far the ADA is applied on a project or building varies quite greatly, depending upon a number of specific factors. If you need a free copy of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and other ADA information, please go here.

ADA and Apartments

In general, for the purposes of determining the applicability of the ADA (as a Federally enforced statute) let’s establish some caveats that represent the typical conditions for most apartment projects, like the one we are discussing here:

  • The project is privately funded and is not receiving assistance of any kind from a City, State, or the Federal Government.
  • The project does not have any live/work units.
  • The project is not owned by an entity of a City, State, or the Federal Government.
  • The project is not owned or assisted by an entity that is receiving assistance from a City, State, or the Federal Government.
  • The project is entirely composed of apartments and related uses. It does not contain any retail or other occupancies.
  • The apartment project does not lease any of its amenity areas (recreation center, clubhouse, pool area, etc.) to the general public for use, nor does it make any of its amenity areas available to the general public for use (exception: resident guests).
  • The project does not contain any land or areas (such as a park, plaza, courtyard, trails, etc.) that are available for public use, or that have been bound by an agreement, for public use.

One final caveat that takes additional explaining. It represents a rare and unique situation that infrequently occurs. In some cases, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) (City and/or State) may reference the ADA as the applicable accessibility standard for compliance with the AHJ’s specific accessibility requirements. These requirements are mandated by some regulation enforced by the AHJ, such as a building code, agency requirement, administrative requirement, or state law. Where this occurs, the AHJ may be enforcing, only in its capacity as a City or State entity (not as the Federal Government), the accessibility requirements found in the ADA accessibility standard…as they have adopted it. Exactly how much of the ADA accessibility standard will be utilized by the AHJ, and where it will occur on an apartment project, as well as how rigorous it will be enforced, will vary, based on each AHJ’s requirements. For the purposes of this discussion, it is assumed that for the apartment project, in question, the AHJ has not referenced the ADA as an accessibility standard that they will enforce.

Locations where ADA is applicable

Given all of the caveats above and generally speaking in very broad terms, the locations where the ADA is applicable for a “typical”, new apartment project include the following spaces:

  • Leasing Office
  • Leasing Office Bathrooms
  • Leasing Office Kitchen / Kitchenette
  • Leasing Office Parking
  • At least one route from the parking for the leasing office, to the leasing office
  • At least one (and possibly more) route(s) from a public sidewalk to the leasing office
  • The Accessible Means of Egress (AME) within the Leasing Office and from the Leasing Office for that portion of the leasing office where “public accommodation” occurs

Please note that for the purposes of this discussion, the description of the apartment project has been simplified to represent a generic, project. It has been my experience, that for any given project, there may be any number of specific, factors, unique to the project (such as retail occupancies, live/work units, leasing office/amenity area layouts), that may result in modifying the extent of applicability for ADA requirements. Because of that, additional analysis is often required. It should also be noted, that the exact locations and extent of application of ADA at the leasing office may vary, depending upon a number of factors.

Please contact me if you have any questions regarding the applicability of ADA requirements for your project and the extent of their application.

Watch for a forthcoming blog posts regarding:

  • the applicability of ADA for projects (including apartments) receiving some type Federal assistance and understanding the finer points of how/where Federal assistance can unknowingly occur on a project…and better yet, what to do when this occurs
  • Accessible Means of Egress (AME) as an often overlooked requirement of the ADA and Building Codes