Accessible Parking for Apartments-A Big Difference with FHA

When determining the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces for a new apartment or condominium project, the Building Code and Fair Housing Act (FHA) requirements can vary. Recognizing the differences in their requirements is important.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Accessible Parking

When attempting to comply with the Fair Housing Act, the first thing to determine is which “safe harbor” or “equivalent standard” will be utilized to comply with design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. While there are different “safe harbors” and a variety of strategies for employing them, for the purposes of discussing accessible parking within this blog post, the chosen “safe harbor” will be the Fair Housing Act Design Manual (FHADM). The FHADM is commonly used because it offers the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) clarifications of the Fair Housing Act requirements as found in the FHA Guidelines.

It is conceivable that for a multi-family residential project, an entity could choose a FHA “safe harbor” such as the 2003 or 2006 editions of the International Building Code (IBC) or the 2012 IBC as a “recognized, comparable, objective standard” for compliance with the FHA. Using these editions of the IBC would result in accessible parking requirements that would closely emulate, if not directly match those found in the applicable building code. However, using these editions of the IBC for compliance with FHA could come with unintended consequences and requirements that greatly exceed those found in other FHA “safe harbors”.

Per the FHADM, the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces is based on the number of “covered dwelling units” (i.e., dwelling units that are required to comply with the FHA). The number of “covered dwelling units” within a project can vary, depending upon a variety of factors. To learn more about how many apartment units in a project must comply with FHA, go here. This minimum number of required accessible parking spaces required by the FHADM is 2% (but not less than one stall) of the “covered dwelling units”.

The International Building Code (IBC) and Accessible Parking

Many Cities and States us an edition (2009, 2012, etc.) of the  the International Building Code (IBC), often with amendments. For the purposes of this blog post, references to the IBC will be to the 2012 edition, without amendments.

Per the 2012 IBC, apartments and condos are classified as occupancy Group R-2. Also per the IBC, the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces for Group R-2 is based on the number of parking spaces provided for the R-2 occupancy. This minimum number of required accessible parking spaces is 2% (but not less than one stall) of each type of parking space provided for the R-2 occupancy.

Accessible Parking; FHADM vs. IBC

As you can see, both the FHADM and the IBC base their number of minimum required accessible parking spaces on different criteria; “covered” units for FHADM and parking spaces for IBC. In general, where at least one parking space has been provided for every unit in a project, the IBC generally will require a minimum number of accessible parking spaces that is equal to or greater than that required by the FHADM.

This is even more so the case for projects where there may be units that are not required to comply with the FHA.

Example: In new, two or three story apartment complexes without elevators, the upper floors would generally be exempt from FHA requirements. For this situation, only the ground floor units would be utilized in determining the FHADM requirements for the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces.

A New Trend in Accessible Parking for Residential Projects

While in general, the IBC often requires a minimum number of accessible parking spaces that exceeds that required by the FHADM, there are situations where this condition is reversed and the FHADM may require more than that of the IBC.

Multi-family residential projects that rely on modes of transportation other than a car, such as bus, train, bicycle, or walking may have less parking for a project. For some of these projects the overall number of provided parking stalls for residential parking may be less than 1 stall per unit. In multi-family residential projects where every unit may conceivably be a “covered unit” (such as in a high-rise building with elevators) this could result in the FHADM requiring at a minimum, more accessible parking spaces than that of the IBC.

Example: 23 story high-rise building, elevator access to all units, 400 residential units, 250 parking stalls provided in a multi-level, below-grade parking garage

Per IBC; minimum required accessible parking spaces = 2% x 250 parking spaces = 5 accessible parking spaces

Per FHADM; minimum required accessible parking spaces = 2% x 400 residential units = 8 accessible parking spaces


When determining the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces for the residential portion of a new apartment or condominium project, care should be exercised when determining compliance with FHA and Building Code Requirements. The FHA and Building Code requirements for determining the minimum number of required accessible parking spaces can vary, based on a number of factors. Depending upon these factors, it is conceivable that the FHA requirements may end up being more stringent than those of the Building Code, or vice versa. Being aware of the conditions where this may occur, is important.

Dog Washing in New Apartments-FHA Accessibility Requirements

Apartments-Dog Washing Station-FHA-1Over the years, one of the growing trends in new apartment projects has been the inclusion of dog washing or pet washing as an amenity within the apartment complex. The type of dog/pet washing amenity can vary; from a sophisticated, pre-manufactured stainless steel sink assembly to a basic, fully tiled room with a hand activated rinsing device connected to a hose.

An excellent resource for the design of dog and pet washing areas can be found in the March 2015 edition of the Construction Specification Institutue’s (CSI) magazine “Specifier” on page 66, found here. It goes into great detail regarding some important design considerations when planning and building a dog washing area.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Accessible Design

While the CSI article on dog washing stations is very thorough, unfortunately, it doesn’t address the subject of accessibility.

For a typical, new apartment project, there are generally a number of units that are required to comply with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Compliance with the FHA is irrespective of whether or not the project is receiving any type of Federal “assistance” (refer to a related blog post, found here). Where there are apartment units that are required to comply with the FHA, areas and elements that are available for use by all residents must also comply with the FHA. These areas and elements are often referred to as “common use” areas or “common use” elements.

Dog washing stations and other, certain, “fixed” building elements/areas that are “common use” present an interesting dilemma when it comes to FHA accessibility compliance. They represent a common use element that was not clearly and distinctly identified, i.e. “scoped” within any of the FHA “safe harbors”.

Because of this, some might assume that these dog washing stations and other elements or areas would be exempt from accessibility requirements. However, it is the Safranek Group’s conservative assessment that based on a broad provision found in the Fair Housing Act Design Manual (FHADM), it appears to be the intent of at least the FHADM, and possibly all other FHA “safe harbors”, that where individual or multiple features, elements, or spaces are provided for common use by residents, not less than one of these features, elements, or spaces must be accessible.

Accessible Dog Washing Areas

As previously mentioned, the design of dog washing areas often ranges from the simple to the sophisticated. Regardless of which one it is, the basic accessibility requirements for the accessible dog washing area are these:

  1. an accessible route to the dog washing area and within this area
  2. a clear floor space at work areas and operable parts within the dog washing area
  3. operable parts (including faucets and other controls and mechanisms) that comply with operability requirements;
    • within reach range from the clear floor space
    • less than 5 pounds of force to operate
    • does not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist

Providing accessibility at dog washing stations can be a challenge. Many of the pre-manufactured dog washing stations lack accessible features. This also includes some dog washing stations that may claim to be ADA compliant. Any dog washing station claiming compliance with accessibility requirements should be closely examined to verify that it does indeed comply with all of the specific, applicable accessibility requirements and not just some of them.


Because of the challenges involved with meeting accessibility requirements at dog washing areas, it is important to recognize this issue and address it. There are often several alternatives for complying with accessibility requirements at dog washing areas. Please contact the Safranek Group if you are interested in learning more about these alternatives.

Apartments and FHA Accessibility, THE Biggest Mistake Made


“My new apartment project isn’t receiving any Federal money, so we’re not required to comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” This is one of the most common things I hear, when I mention to individuals that their new apartment project is subject to FHA requirements regarding accessibility. It represents one of the biggest misconceptions that can result in significantly increasing the projects exposure to an FHA complaint and a possible lawsuit.

FHA and Privately Funded Apartment Projects

For new, privately funded projects (with four or more units) that are NOT receiving a penny of Federal money or any kind of Federal “assistance”, they are still required to comply with the FHA requirements regarding accessibility. In the case of privately funded apartment projects, the purpose of the FHA is to prevent discrimination because of race, color, national origin, presence of children, sex, and disability for individuals renting housing. It has nothing to do with whether or not the project is receiving Federal money or assistance. The FHA is a Federal program to end discrimination in the entire, overall rental housing market.

How Many Apartment Units in a Project Must Comply?

For a new apartment project (with four or more units), this number will vary, given a number of factors, that are beyond the limits of this blog post to explain. The site layout, unit configuration, and use of elevators can result in a number of permutations with both units required to comply AND units NOT required to comply.

Here is a very general list of “dwelling unit” types (and portions thereof) that are NOT  “covered” by the FHA (hence the FHA term, “covered” units) and are exempt from complying with the FHA requirements for accessibility:

  • Unit: Townhomes (given several important caveats)
  • Unit: Carriage Houses (given an important caveat)
  • Unit: Multistory dwelling units (individual units, 2 stories or more), located in a building without elevators
  • Unit: Units on stories other than the ground floor, for buildings with some “covered” units on the ground floor and without elevators (given several important caveats)
  • Unit: Units claiming an exemption based on site impracticality
  • Unit: Units claiming an exemption based on a site with unusual characteristics (flood plain/coastal high hazard area, given several important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: Additional stories of a multistory dwelling unit that are NOT on the story of the primary entry to the unit, AND where the unit is located in a building with elevators (given several important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: The “loft” level or any sunken or raised area of a single-story dwelling unit (given a number of very important caveats)
  • Portion of a Unit: The garage for units with an attached garage where the garage is used by the resident of that unit (given several important caveats)

Units claiming exemption because of site impracticality (typically topography) should be particularly careful when making this assessment. The Fair Housing Act Design Manual provides information regarding the various tests that must be performed to verify and validate that the units, indeed meet the criteria for exemption. If you should need assistance with these tests, please contact the Safranek Group. We have expertise in administering these tests and are very familiar with the specific requirements and protocols.


For new apartment projects, just because your project isn’t receiving Federal “assistance” (READ: money), it doesn’t mean that your project doesn’t have to comply with the FHA requirements for accessibility. Yes, there are specific circumstances where compliance with these requirements is not necessary. Knowing where those circumstances occur, is critical, when claiming exemption from those FHA requirements.

If by now, you’re asking yourself, “Why should I care if my project complies with FHA or ADA?” See Part II (soon to follow) and learn more about some big myths regarding FHA and ADA compliance for new apartment projects (and other projects, in general).



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