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Accessibility Laws and Regulations - Residential

April 2000     

A ToolBase TechNote

Several federal laws and regulations contain requirements for accessibility for new construction, for alterations or renovations to buildings and facilities, and for improving access to existing facilities that serve the public. In addition to the federal laws, state and local laws may also apply. Single and two-family homes are generally not subject to local, state, or federal accessibility requirements, but some local jurisdictions (e.g., Atlanta, GA, and Austin, TX) require certain new homes to contain basic accessibility features. However, many multifamily dwellings and their associated sites and amenities may be subject to a layering of local and state accessibility requirements in the form of a model building code, as well as federal accessibility requirements.

Background

Local building departments establish model building codes, and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has been responsible for the development and revision of the ICC/ANSI A117.1 standard - "Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities," since 1961. On the federal level, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 (504), the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) may apply. Although the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act and Accessibility Guidelines apply to new construction of housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, the general provisions apply to all residential housing, including the provisions for "Reasonable Accommodations" and "Reasonable Modifications."

  • National Consensus Standards - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is responsible for ICC/ANSI A117.1 standard - "Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities." The 1992 or 1998 editions of the A117.1 standard are referenced in each of the current model building codes. Earlier editions of the A117.1 standard (1980, 1986, and 1992) are referenced in many older codes and by many current State and local codes, regulations, and laws. The 1998 standard will be referenced in the 2000 edition of the International Building Code, the single code that will eventually replace the current set of three regional codes.

  • Model Building Codes - Each model building code contains accessibility requirements for certain multifamily dwellings and townhouse projects. These codes reference the A117.1 standard for accessibility. To find out what code and edition (e.g., 1986, 1992, 1996, 1998) applies, contact your local building department.

  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 (504) - Federally funded residential projects are subject to 504, which requires the application of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS).

  • American with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines - The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) set minimum requirements for compliance with Title III of the ADA that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations and commercial facilities. Locations include lodging, restaurants, and public gathering places. A revision to these Guidelines is currently in process.

  • Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (effective for first building occupancy after 3/13/91) - These Guidelines describe the requirements for compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988. The Guidelines provide technical guidance on the design and construction of elevated multifamily buildings consisting of four or more dwelling units, or ground floor units in other buildings of four or more units. The Guidelines address:
    • Accessible building entrances on an accessible route;
    • Accessible and usable public and common use areas;
    • Usable doors for wheelchair passage;
    • Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit;
    • Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls;
    • Reinforced walls for grab bars; and
    • Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Application of Requirements - Federally funded residential projects are subject to 504, which requires the application of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). State or local government funded residential projects are subject to the ADA and must apply the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and UFAS. Certain private and public housing projects (apartment, condominium, and some townhouses) may be subject to Fair Housing, which calls for the application of the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (FHAG). Some projects may be subject to 504, the ADA, and Fair Housing. All residential projects are subject to the general provisions of the Fair Housing Act, including the requirements for "Reasonable Accommodations" and "Reasonable Modifications."

    Because there may be multiple standards and codes that affect how a house is designed, it is important to determine what standards and regulations may affect a property at the beginning of the design process. These standards and codes may conflict, and the local code officials should determine what is acceptable in their jurisdiction.

Resources

  • MODEL CODES: To order one of the model codes, call ICC 888-699-0541 (http://www.iccsafe.org/).

  • A117.1 STANDARDS: Copies of this standard are available by calling the International Code Council (ICC) at (703) 932-4533. Internet: http://www.iccsafe.org/. The model code organizations provide technical assistance on the standard. The Fair Housing Act Design Manual references the 1986 ANSI A117.1 document. To get a copy of this document, currently out of print, contact Global Engineering at (800) 854-7179.

  • ADAAG and UFAS: For free copies of and technical assistance on the ADA Accessibility Guidelines and UFAS, call the U.S. Access Board: (800) 872-2253 or Fax technical questions to (202) 272-5447, Attn: Technical Assistance. Internet: www.access-board.gov.

  • FHAG: For technical assistance on the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines, call HUD at (202) 708-2333. For copies of the Fair Housing Act Design Manual, call HUD at (800) 767-7468. Internet: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/fhefhag.cfm.

  • USC Home Modification Action Project publishes information on the Internet as the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing & Home Modification, http://www.homemods.org

  • Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access
    School of Architecture and Planning - University at Buffalo
    Buffalo, NY 14214-3087
    http://www.ap.buffalo.edu

  • NAHB Bookstore
    Order Desk (800) 223-2665
    http://www.builderbooks.com

  • Fair Housing Compliance Guide
    Format: Book
    Audience: Associates, Remodelers, Builders
    This book provides an overview of the Fair Housing Act and hot topic discussions on occupancy standards, the Americans with Disabilities Act, advertising issues and enforcement procedures.

  • NAHB Education Services
    Format: Audio tape cassette (800) 368-5242, ext. 154

  • ADA/504 Fair Housing Accessibility Inspections
    Audience: Remodelers, Builders
    A panel of experts discusses how builders can avoid costly accessibility lawsuits by reviewing the Big Three Legislative Acts - Section 504, ADA and Fair Housing and their relationship to single and multifamily housing design.

  • Comply With Me: ADA, Fair Housing Codes and Model Codes + RH1 ADA/504/Fair Housing Accessibility
    Audience: Associates, Remodelers, Builders
    Discusses the layering of federal, state and local law, regulation and code and their application to single family townhouses or multifamily apartment units.

  • Home Builder Institute
    (202) 371-0600. http://www.hbi.org
    Format: Continuing Education
    HBI's continuing education courses are offered at national and regional trade shows and at locations designed by state and local home builder associations.

  • Building Codes and Standards
    This course identifies the organizations that develop, revise and regulate building codes and standards. Emphasis is on state and local building departments, plan review, building permits, inspections, code enforcement and the appeal process. Approved for CGB and CGR credit.