Property Management Strategies: Keeping in Compliance in the New Year
With the holiday celebrations now behind, thoughts this time of the year turn to New Year’s resolutions. And what better resolution than to focus on keeping in compliance and taking preventive actions in all facets of property management?
Sure, some resolutions just don’t have a chance to succeed, but vowing and fulfilling the promise to be compliant and running your property in accordance to laws and regulations is essential. Failure to comply in some cases can have sticky – and costly – repercussions.
A lawsuit involving a Pacific Northwest property and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a reminder that being ADA complaint with government housing legislation for the disabled is essential to property owners.
In this situation, an Oregon property developer and designer was charged with failing to build apartments that are accessible to persons with disabilities in a lawsuit filed in Portland’s U.S. District Court, according to HUD’s web site and other reports.
The lawsuit alleges that the design of the complex denies people using wheelchairs equal access to ground-floor units and common areas. Cited were numerous alleged Fair Housing Amendment Act violations (FHAA) ranging from excessive slope of ramps to inaccessible restrooms, showers, paper towel dispensers and thermostats.
An architect and accessibility consultant contracted by HUD cited the complex for not being within compliance of the design and construction requirements of the FHAA, which has specific language aimed at apartment complexes. The property owners’ defense is based on site impracticality, an exemption in the FHAA guidelines, and the statute of limitations. The lawsuit sought after unspecified monetary damages.
Auld Lang Syne just struck a sour chord.
Such lawsuits are not uncommon and can be aimed at apartment complexes that aren’t compliant with the FHAA. The Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. The determination of first occupancy is made on a building-by-building basis and includes the last building permit or renewal thereof by a state, county or local government on or before June 15, 1990.
Specifically, the Act covers units in buildings containing four or more units with one or more elevators, and all ground floor units in buildings containing four or more units, without an elevator. This includes condominiums, apartment buildings, vacation or other time share units, assisted living projects, dormitory rooms, public housing authorities and others. The FHAA does not require any renovations to buildings constructed before 1991.
In addition to the FHAA, multifamily and other properties fall under several different laws and regulations governing accessibility, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Each act includes requirements to enable residents with disabilities have access to basic accommodations in the complex. Federal programs and the age of the property determine which laws apply.
Property management strategies: a quick compliance overview
Property owners must comply with numerous provisions and requirements within these laws and regulations for properties that apply. For a quick overview, the FHAA requires seven basic requirements for compliance:
- An accessible building entrance on an accessible route. Covered multifamily dwellings must have at least one building entrance on an accessible route, unless it is impractical to do so because of terrain or unusual characteristics of the site.
- Accessible to common and public use areas. Such areas could include but are not limited to clubhouses, front offices, playgrounds and other recreational areas, laundry rooms, postal drop areas and other recreational areas.
- Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair). All doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises must be sufficiently wide to allow passage by persons in wheelchairs.
- Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit. There must be an accessible route into and through the dwelling units, providing access for people with disabilities throughout the unit.
- Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
- Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars. All premises within dwelling units must contain reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars around toilet, tub, shower stall and shower seat, where such facilities are provided. Showers and tubs should also have a seat.
- Usable kitchens and bathrooms. Dwelling units must contain usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual who uses a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.
The FHAA also has specific design criteria for everything from dumpster location, to trash chutes, to handicap parking spaces to ramps. Also, the ADA covers public accommodations, including apartment complex offices, which should be clear of obstructions. Van accessible spaces are required at offices and community rooms.
By being in compliance with the laws and regulations governing multifamily units, property managers can avoid costly lawsuits and provide ease of accessibility for disabled residents. Is your property compliant?
Making a resolution to ensure compliance is one well worth keeping.