The Importance of Accessibility Compliance in Multifamily
Greg Proctor, Vice President of RealPage Compliance Services, has been preaching the need for more awareness of accessibility compliance issues with properties for years. Out of all of the properties he has inspected over the years (and that is many years), he has yet to find one that is completely in compliance with the regulations that govern that property.
“While some of the issues on these properties are small, the properties are still out of compliance and are great liabilities to their owners and managers. Multifamily investors continue to brush off the seriousness of the problem, even with all of the lawsuits and complaints lodged against properties nationally,” Proctor says.
According to Proctor, the common responses given for non-compliance include the following: a) there has never been a complaint before, b) a federal agency is overseeing a regulatory agreement on the property and has inspected the property for accessibility compliance, c) the owner and manager performed an accessibility review in the past.
Proctor says that nothing could be further from the truth: “Residents and applicants file complaints daily across the country. The responsibility for accessibility compliance falls squarely on the owner’s shoulders. Regulatory agencies are not tasked with performing accessibility reviews for properties, so they should not be relied on to ensure compliance. In addition, accessibility reviews performed in the past are only a snapshot in time. The property may have changed since then. New striping on the parking lot, installation of new faucets or door handles, new thermostats, etc.”
Increasing the awareness of accessibility compliance
While there continues to be some apathy regarding accessibility, several new developments might change the minds of owners and managers.
“HUD has made it a priority to reduce the instances of injury to residents at senior properties, including producing the 36-page report Overcoming Obstacles to Policies for Preventing Falls by the Elderly in 2017. Many of these falls are caused by amenities or design features that are not in compliance. Recent cases against owners by the Department of Justice have shown some owners that the threat of lawsuits is real. We are seeing an increase in understanding about accessibility coming from regulatory agencies and they are starting to find owners out of compliance for accessibility issues.”
One way owners and managers might be encouraged to ensure accessibility on their properties is to inform them that they may receive discounts on their property and liability insurance if they have a third party perform a detailed accessibility plan. According to Megan Davidson, an insurance expert and Vice President at Alliant Insurance Services, insurance agencies are always looking for ways to reduce or mitigate risk on multifamily properties. Providing proof that the owner of a property has had an accessibility plan done could lead to a reduction of the insurance premium through a discount.
“We want our clients to be proactive about reducing liability at their properties. Reducing claims and preventing injuries is a goal shared by everyone. Having a plan of action to correct areas of non-compliance or issues allows us to charge less for an insurance premium,” Davidson says.
Benefits of accessibility compliance
By having an accessibility plan, Davidson states that accessibility plans have the effect of reducing the risk of injury or damage to residents and employees on the premises. The reduction in risk drives down potential injuries, and improves the loss history at the premises inspected. This has a long-term, positive effect on the total cost of risk, which includes insurance premiums. Having a compliance plan is an important element in negotiating insurance premiums. Additionally, having a compliance audit assists in avoiding the pitfalls and expenses involved in a potential lawsuit alleging discrimination based on non-compliance with ADA requirements. Not all organizations insure against such claims, but there is a financial effect on the organization whether they do or not – as well as the management distraction of dealing with an allegation: “Doing an accessibility plan seems like a win-win for all of us.”
Proctor agrees: “Not only does making sure your property is in compliance with all of the applicable regulations help mitigate risk and potentially save on insurance premiums, it is the right thing to do. Accessibility laws were enacted for a reason; they support individuals with disabilities by helping them have the same access to your properties and programs as anyone else. While many of the regulations may seem excessive, most people have never had to use an assistive device like a walker or wheelchair. Even with the design features required by federal law, it is still sometimes difficult to navigate through common areas and dwelling units. Most property managers become aware of this from the damages made by wheelchairs to door frames in public and common areas at a property.”
Davidson reiterates Proctor’s words: “It seems like a no-brainer to me. Reduced costs of insurance. Less liability. Helping more people have access to housing—those are enough reasons for my company to encourage compliance and negotiate reduced premiums for those properties that are trying to achieve those goals.”
Learn more about accessibility plans by watching this on-demand webcast.