The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. It can also be an investment property management issue.
The ADA Standards establish design requirements for the construction and alteration of facilities to accommodate wheelchairs, which is subject to the law. These enforceable standards apply to places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities. Apartment and residential communities that were constructed both before and after the ADA was enacted in 1990 are required to provide disabled access to all public areas, including rental offices, event spaces, and public restrooms. An ADA apartment must also be easy to enter and exit, particularly for people who use a wheelchair.
The ADA protects people with disabilities. Disability is a broad term that covers a wide range of conditions, some of which are visible and others are hidden. By law, property managers may not ask about the exact nature of a person’s disability, but ADA Standards require it to be a physical or mental disorder that substantially limits life activities.
Among the disabilities covered under the ADA are:
- Mental illness
- Visual impairment
- Mobility impairment
- Noncontagious diseases
In 2016, an estimated 12.8 percent of Americans were reported with disabilities. Disabled people may have trouble caring for themselves or performing manual tasks. Ambulatory disabilities, which affect a person’s mobility including walking, are the most common types of disabilities in the U.S. Ambulatory disabilities affect more than 6.6 percent of the population. Other types of disorders covered under the ADA include some affect a person’s ability to concentrate, disorders that affect a person’s ability to communicate, and others that impede social interaction.
Reasonable accommodation refers to the rules, policies, practices or living environment under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that accommodates someone with a disability and does not create an undue hardship for the investment property management team. The goal of the reasonable accommodation clause is to provide tenants with the ability to experience the full benefits of living in the community.
An example of who benefits from the right to a reasonable accommodation is someone who owns a service dog that by law cannot be refused to entry to a no-pet apartment community by a landlord or property manager. Another example, if a disabled apartment resident who is restricted to a wheelchair lives in a building with laundry facilities are strictly for tenants only, the disabled tenant may ask for accommodations to allow a friend or family member inside to help with their laundry.
When a tenant requests a reasonable accommodation in a rental property, the apartment manager is allowed to require verification of the disability. However, asking for further information about the extent or severity of the disability is prohibited. Once a request is made, the property manager or landlord must respond “promptly, without undue, indeterminate or unjustified delay.”
Property owners are usually responsible for the cost of reasonable accommodations, whether it be a designated accessible parking spot or adding a wheelchair ramp to the complex entrance. Most accommodations are free or low-cost to implement.
When it comes to interior modifications made to an apartment, those costs are the tenant’s responsibilities. Modifications may include adding a handrail in the bathroom or removing carpeting for allergy control. Renters who modify an apartment for the length of their tenancy are also responsible to restore the apartment to its original state upon the landlord’s request. However, the tenant is often able to negotiate with the property manager to move out without restoring the apartment to its original state.
Since the day it was signed into law, ADA has been the target of myths and conjecture aimed at its regulations and their meaning. One of the most outlandish myths claims that ADA lawsuits continuously flood courtrooms. Fact is, of the millions of businesses, employers and entities that must comply with the ADA, only 650 lawsuits were filed in five years.
An unfortunate result of this apocryphal may have caused some property managers to be wary of dealing with disabled tenants.
Another myth claims that older or historic buildings are exempt from ADA guidelines, which is not true. All buildings are required to make public spaces accessible to those with disabilities. However, buildings constructed or renovated after 1990 and 2010 face stricter regulations when it comes to design.
Still another myth claims that organizations that settle an ADA lawsuit cannot be sued again, which is also untrue. If a violation is discovered even after a settlement, a disabled person has the right to file suit to ask for modifications from an employer who has been sued and settled or sued and lost in the past. Settling an ADA lawsuit does not exempt employers from future compliance. It’s best for property manager and landlords to understand ADA guideline and keep up with compliance at their rental property.
To improve compliance at your rental community, start by reviewing the ADA guidelines. The regulations that apply to your property are determined by the year your apartment building was constructed.
General compliance ensures all indoor and outdoor passageways such as sidewalks, ramps, and elevators are accessible. Doorways and entrances should have enough clearance for wheelchairs to fit through and maneuver. If your rental property is expansive, consider installing a chair lift—a seat that moves along a motorized rail that can help tenants with disabilities get around the property. Of your building has two floors or more and does not have an elevator, consider installing one. Additionally, provide handicap-only parking spaces near the entrance of the complex.
Provide large-font copies of relevant paperwork to visually impaired tenants and keep extras handy for new applicants who may need them— including rental applications and leases if you still use paper forms for those purposes. Provide guests with an easy way to communicate with the project manager when the need arises, through email, a tip box or a dedicated tenant phone line.
ADA compliance shouldn’t seem complicated. Research the specific regulations for your building, avoid common misconceptions, and determine if improvements are needed and if so, how to make them. If a tenant makes a request based on a disability, ask for verification of the disability, determine if the request is reasonable and if so, implement the requested change. That’s the mark of superior investment property management.