Keeping Properties in Compliance with ADA and Fair Housing Laws
There seems to be an increase in activity in the monitoring of accessibility compliance at multifamily properties across the country.
2015 brought us the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). ADA protects against discrimination based on disability and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
Since most multifamily properties have a leasing office and common area on-site, they fall under the requirements of the law. In addition, multifamily dwelling units built after 1991 are required to comply with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
Fair Housing and Compliance Regulations
These regulations ensure the rights of the disabled and protect against discrimination, which includes providing equal access to multifamily complexes. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforce these rights.
Each agency has developed policies to allow a person to report potential discrimination based on disability. HUD has been very active in advertising both print and electronic media. They convey to residents and potential residents their rights under the various accessibility laws.
The ad on the left, showing discrimination against an Iraqi war veteran, is very effective and to the point. The ad on right points out that controls and switches, which most people take for granted on a daily basis, might be inaccessible to someone who is mobility impaired.
As both agencies have demonstrated through their public outreach, ADA compliance is important to them. It should be important to the owners and managers of multifamily properties as well.
Major costs associated with non-compliance in communities
Non-compliance with accessibility laws can carry huge consequences. If the DOJ finds evidence of discrimination by an owner/operator regarding accessibility, it will demand non-compliance correction. When the DOG prevails in litigation it can require retrofitting of the properties cited. They enforce an injunction against future discrimination, fair housing accessibility training, record keeping and periodic reporting to the DOJ.
In addition, the DOJ will seek to identify victims of the alleged discriminatory housing practices and seek a court judgment in their favor. They will require payment of monetary damages to those victims as well as a civil penalty payment. On top of all of this, more than likely the owner/operator is going to incur enormous legal fees. The cost of settling with the DOJ far exceeds the cost of reviewing and planning for accessibility compliance.
Planning and evaluating can help protect your property
In order to help protect themselves from potential lawsuits, owner/operators should conduct an evaluation of each property and create a plan to correct any areas of non-compliance. There are several firms that can provide these plans to owner/operators and it is much more cost effective to work in one of these plans than to settlle a claim with the DOJ.
Since many accessibility elements can quickly fall out of compliance, companies should create new compliance plans at least every five years. For example, think about how often properties re-stripe a parking lot or change a level on a sink. This can help determine how quickly a unit or a property can become non-complaint.
Not only does adhering to these regulations prevent lawsuits, but providing equal access to properties to those with disabilities is the right thing to do.
For more tips on keeping your property in compliance with ADA and fair housing, check out this free eBook on accessibility compliance.