Last month I touched on what Homeowners Association Managers can do to avoid costly ADA lawsuits by unexpectedly inviting the “general public” onto their properties and inadvertently “triggering” ADA requirements that historically have never been a requirement for them.
Well many of you in the Rental Housing Industry jumped on the phone or emailed me saying, “Hey, what about us?”
Well, I heard you all loud and clear!
So let’s get right down to the key things every rental housing manager can do right now to not only provide better access for residents and their guests but stop an ADA lawsuit DEAD in its tracks!
First, let’s first clarify which codes and laws are in effect on rental housing properties and how to interpret them properly.
- The “ADA” (Americans With Disabilities Act) deals with “public accommodation” areas within the facility that are used by the general public, residents and their guests.
- The “FFHA” (Federal Fair Housing Act) & “CFHA” (California Fair Housing Act) deals with the actual dwelling units and their occupants access needs.
The Federal ADA codes do NOT crossover into the individual dwelling units but the FFHA & CFHA does, however, crossover into the exterior areas of a rental housing facility when a disabled resident requests “reasonable accommodations” be made so that they can fully use and enjoy the amenities provided by ownership. More on this later!
So all those emails and phone calls I received from all of you apartment managers were answered right away but I wanted to share a few very important ones with all of you.
After listening to each of you and answering back individual’s questions, I wanted to share four of the questions received:
- Exactly where does the ADA have authority on my property?
- What role does the FFHA & CFHA play in apartment housing?
- How does the “Certified Access Specialist” program help protect my facility and me from a lawsuit?
- What are the top action items that my managers can do to isolate and protect us from an ADA lawsuit?
- Answer To Question 1: The Federal ADA deals directly with access for the “common public”, “visitors” and “guests” of residents that are using any and all “common use” amenities provided on the property such as clubhouse, pool, BBQ areas, showers, restrooms, playgrounds and sports fields/courts.
- Answer To Question 2: FFHA & CFHA deals directly with disabled residents access needs only. But not just inside their unit but rather the entire “path of travel” from their unit to their parking spot and to all of the on-site “common use” areas.
- Answer To Question 3: By obtaining a CASp inspection report for your facility, you are being proactive in the eyes of the courts. This also allows you some very important court protections as well as the ability to put an immediate 90-day stay on the plaintiff’s activities. In essence it “freezes” the plaintiff and their attorney in place so they cannot rack up outrageous fees and return to your property to find any and all barriers that would potentially deny the plaintiff full and equal access. Lets take this one step further. By obtaining a CASp inspection report that actually has “scoping” details on how and when to remove such barriers, you and your managers are know “armed” with valuable information that allows sound decisions to be made moving forward.
- Answer To Question 4: This answer has two parts! First, all managers must always be keeping a watchful eye on all of their “common use” areas that the general public comes in contact with on a daily basis, i.e. disabled visitor parking, curb ramp or walkway access to the managers office, any restroom associated with the managers office and an accessible desk or table for filling out applications. The other part is to really know your disabled residents needs and if any of them make a request for some sort of “reasonable accommodation”, DO NOT BLOW THEM OFF or ignore their request. Talk with them and come to some sort of understanding even if it’s not exactly what they initially asked for.
Remember, the key word here is “reasonable” and this is a two way street.
Before wrapping up with the 20 barriers that an apartment manager should remove to avoid an ADA lawsuit, I want to share the 7 basic requirements from the Federal Fair Housing Act in regards to how all rental housing facilities are built.
First, the Fair Housing Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13th, 1991 be accessible and usable by all disabled. Buildings containing four or more dwelling units are considered a covered multifamily housing.
All ground floor units in buildings without an elevator must be accessible or “usable” by disabled and all units on every floor in buildings with at least one elevator must be accessible or “usable” by disabled.
These units must be constructed to be accessible and usable by disabled with the ability to make modifications upon request such as adding grab bars in the shower or tub, providing clear knee space under kitchen and restroom sinks and a path of travel through the entry door, living room, kitchen, hallway to the bathroom and main bedroom.
Here are the 7 basic requirements:
- An accessible building entrance on an accessible route
- Accessible common and public use areas
- Usable doors (usable by wheelchair users)
- Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
- Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats & controls in accessible locations
- Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars
- Usable kitchens and bathrooms
So you are probably asking yourself “so what if my apartment complex was built and first occupied prior to March 13th, 1991”?
The FFHA does not require older facilities to comply with these requirements since they were already built and occupied, but this does not mean that you as a manager or owner can ignore some of these items.
Remember the reasonable accommodation requests made by residents?
Also, any permitted upgrades, structural repairs or remodeled units are a “trigger” to bring these altered areas into compliance with current access standards. So be careful here!
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to a very enthusiastic group of rental housing professionals at the Sacramento chapter of RHA (Rental Housing Association). What an awesome group of people with such energy and passion for their industry.
“Hat Tip” to Executive Director, Jim Lofgren for doing such an amazing job pulling this together. During this presentation, I shared this top 20 list of common barriers found throughout rental housing properties and if addressed properly, any manager can virtually eliminate an ADA lawsuit from ever being filed.
Here you go everyone!
Remember, protecting our properties from frivolous lawsuits does not happen by accident.
Top 10 Outside Barriers:
- Lack of/ or non-compliant loading zones and van access aisles.
- Lack of/ or insufficient accessible parking spaces.
- Lack of/ or non-compliant accessible parking signage.
- Incorrect number of accessible stalls.
- Insufficient path of travel to/from the parking lot and the public sidewalk.
- Entry doors not accessible or missing ISA symbol.
- Curb ramps not accessible.
- Lack of/ or non-compliant truncated domes.
- Improper or missing tow away sign.
- Sloped door landings and/ or raised thresholds.
Top 10 Inside Barriers:
- Door Hardware: round knob/ operating pressure over 5 pounds.
- Lack of accessible route and EXIT signage.
- Non-tactile/ braille permanent room identification signs.
- Non-compliant surface heights and knee clearances for reception/ sales counters, bar counters, and/ or work/ dining tables.
- Access aisles non-compliant with items not located on an accessible route.
- Toilet room entries not accessible with incorrect or lacking door signage, sign height and door pressures.
- Insufficient clear space inside and restroom fixtures mounted too high or are protruding into the required maneuvering space.
- Excessive reach range of displayed merchandise.
- Insufficient clear space from main entry to sales counter.
- Sales/ Reception counter cluttered with merchandise.
If ADA-PROS can be of help to you beyond this list, get in contact with us! We’d love to help you out.