Navigating the plethora of compliance obligations for commercial properties can be challenging.
One of the more challenging issues in building compliance can be accessibility requirements. Even on the same compliance matter, like the number of handicap-accessible parking spaces required, different regulatory bodies can have varying standards. Understanding and following the highest standards is crucial to avoiding lawsuits and other non-compliance issues as an owner, and as a buyer, this information can help leverage negotiations. EBI Consulting’s accessibility surveys provide a comprehensive solution that can be tailored to the concerns of a specific property.
What is Building Accessibility?
Building accessibility concerns the design, construction, and alteration of properties so that people with disabilities will have ready access to and use of them. Wheelchair ramps, braille signage, elevators, and walkway contours are just some of the many modifications that enable people with disabilities to have equal access.
Codes & Regulations
The most commonly referenced regulatory body on accessibility is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADA doesn’t necessarily cover all aspects of building accessibility, and there are many other codes and regulations which may apply to a particular property. “The ADA primarily deals with accessibility of public facilities such as restaurants, hotels, and parks.
With respect to housing accessibility, Title II of the ADA covers housing provided by public entities (state and local governments), such as housing on a State university campus, and Title III requires that public and common use areas at housing developments are accessible.”[i] In addition to the ADA, the assessor may also check for compliance against the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Architectural Barriers Act, and state and local building codes.
The different rules of accessibility are extensive. Below are just a few examples to illustrate the complexities of regulations and why accessibility surveys are a good option to avoid compliance issues:
- The standard size for car accessible parking spaces is 8’ wide with a 5’ isle. The standard size for van accessible parking spaces is 8’ wide with an 8’ isle. The lesser known alternative is an 11’ wide space with a 5’ isle, or (as shown in the figure) the isle can be shared, so long as it is at minimum 8’ wide for vans. Depending on your parking configuration, one might be more ideal than the other. These are just a few of the rules for parking spaces.
- In 2010, the ADA added standards for pools: Large pools (over 300 linear feet) must have two accessible means of entry, with at least one being a pool lift or sloped entry; smaller pools are only required to have one accessible means of entry, being either a pool lift or a sloped entry. Additional regulations apply to pool lifts (portable or fixed, size of seats, etc.) There are also some exceptions, like wave pools, multiple spas in a cluster, or pools with one point of entry and exit.
- Curb ramps have a lot of specific regulations regarding width, slope, and the areas surrounding the ramp which vary depending on the type of curb ramp. For instance, a recessed curb ramp, shown in the figure, cannot have a slope greater than 8.3%, and the same for the flares (to the sides of the ramp) if the landing at the top of the ramp is less than 48 inches. If the landing is greater than 48 inches, then the flared sides may slope up to 10 percent. There are dozens of other rules regarding curb ramps to consider.
EBI’s Accessibility Surveys
Accessibility surveys provide reporting specific to a property’s compliance with applicable accessibility regulations. These surveys range from a short-form compliance checklist designed to capture the more basic, common aspects of non-compliance to detailed, extensive assessments that go beyond basic observation. More detailed surveys cover the nuances of accessibility compliance and provide an in-depth assessment of accessible design features related to items such as interior and exterior accessible pathways, parking, signage, and public use areas, such as restrooms or swimming pools. EBI provides four levels of surveys giving clients greater options in choosing the depth of assessment that suits them.
A Level I survey reports on the general ADA compliance of a property and proposes immediate and short-term deferred maintenance repairs. EBI’s assessor will conduct onsite visual assessments and will complete an ADA Checklist with findings obtained from the site survey. Level I surveys are broad observations of non-compliant ADA elements on site and do not contain the details or itemization that full surveys contain. The scopes of Levels I – III are not considered ASTM Tier II or Tier III Full Accessibility Surveys, and therefore may not be in compliance with the ADA Act Title III or the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
In addition to onsite visual assessments, a Level II survey may include representative measurements and will identify observable non-compliant conditions specific to Title III of the ADA by utilizing the Modified Accessibility Compliance Checklist (MACC). The MACC has 54 items which cover public use areas such as parking, paths of travel, bathrooms, and elevators. As the assessor identifies non-compliance conditions, they will make basic recommendations for immediate repairs that would be necessary for such conditions to become compliant. A budget allowance for each category observed as non-compliant will also be provided, but because they are based on representative measurements and observations, the budget costs may not represent probable construction cost.
As an example, one of the MACC items is determining whether public bathroom sinks appear to have ample wheelchair clearance (29” clearance). If an assessor observes that the women’s bathrooms do not appear to meet this requirement, they will take a basic measurement, document the condition, and provide a suggested replacement cost. If the men’s bathroom has similar observed conditions, the assessor multiplies the replacement cost to provide a total cost estimate for both sinks.
This assessment goes beyond the MACC, reporting on additional areas, like sample accessible guestrooms, meeting spaces, food and beverage areas, pools, and other miscellaneous but significant areas not part of any tenant space operations. Tenant spaces are excluded because the majority of standard commercial leases assign responsibility for compliance with accessibility regulations to the tenant, not the owner. This is the case for all survey levels. Also excluded are staff-only areas, therefore the assessment does not address any owner operational issues, or any issues associated with Title I Employee accommodation issues.
Level III surveys are customized to the property and contain an itemized list detailing each observed barrier with photographs, repair recommendations, and cost estimates, rather than a checklist. Examples of these higher-level assessments include measurements of threshold widths and slope, handrail diameters, and width of doors.
Level IV surveys are the most comprehensive and are completed in accordance with the ASTM Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process covering 2010 ADA Standards. This survey may also make recommendations on other federal accessibility regulations or local codes, regulations, and ordinances, depending on the scope. Similar to Level III, the reports will be customized to the property and include photographs, measurements, repair recommendations, and cost estimates.
Let EBI be your Guide
Our team understands that each project is unique and may require varying levels of due diligence. EBI’s trusted consultants work with clients to determine the services and solutions that best serve their needs and ideal outcomes. We offer four levels of accessibility surveys for this reason: whether you want to do the most basic assessment as an add-on to your property condition report, or you want a full-ADA compliant survey that covers all the nuances of accessibility regulations, EBI Consulting can provide the best options for you and your property.