Fair Housing – What’s Your Safe Harbor?

Compliance with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal civil rights law, has significantly improved since the early 1990s when the regulations were promulgated. Unfortunately, a quick search of recent news articles will reveal that noncompliance with basic FHA requirements continues to be a problem in newly constructed multifamily projects nationwide. Owners, developers, architects, and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements despite the fact that it has been approximately 30 years since those requirements went into effect.

Based on our experience, one of the contributing factors in continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code will result in compliance with the FHA. It is important to note that if the accessibility requirements of one of the ten HUD-approved safe harbors are not incorporated into the design of a multifamily development, and the project complies only with the accessibility requirements of a building code, then the risk of noncompliance exists.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, many building codes fell far short of FHA compliance. For example, many developers in New York City relied on compliance with NYC’s Local Law 58 of 1987, believing that they would also be compliant with the Fair Housing Act. Unfortunately, this resulted in widespread noncompliance. LL58 permitted step up terraces and small bathroom layouts with inswinging doors, among other design elements that did not satisfy FHA compliance. The problem has certainly become less pervasive in more recent years as the ICC and local jurisdictions have become aware of shortcomings in their code requirements, but there are still some FHA criteria that have fallen through the cracks in even the most up-to-date building codes. Read more

The 3 Most Important Design and Construction Considerations for Senior Living Facilities

Last year, a young New Zealand lawmaker shut down a fellow member of parliament who was heckling her climate change speech with two words: “OK, Boomer.” This simple phrase started an online wildfire and ignited a conversation about the generation known as “baby boomers.” Born just after World War II, this demographic represents a period of growth, hope, and prosperity. The building, real estate, and senior housing industry has been thinking about the boomer generation for a while now. Between the years 1946 and 1964, 76 million babies were born. Every day until 2030, 10,000 of these individuals will turn 65, which means they will likely be retiring, and eventually considering how and where they want to age. This poses the question: how are we going to meet the growing demand for housing and care for this population?

image of senior couple holding hands and walking

Important Considerations for Senior Living

Whether you or someone you love is considering staying in their home as they age or moving into a senior living facility, there are a few important factors to keep in mind. SWA services for senior living revolve around the following three factors:

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Tech Notes: Door Surface

The 2010 ADA Standards and the A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities require the bottom 10 inches on the push side of a door to be smooth and free from any obstructions for the full width of the door. While there are some exceptions (e.g., sliding doors or tempered glass doors without stiles), this requirement applies at the following locations:

  • 2010 ADA Standards:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage
  • A117.1 Standard:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Type B Dwelling Units: The primary entry door
    • Type A and Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage

The door surface provision is intended to ensure the safety of people with disabilities who require the use of a wheelchair, walker, cane, or other mobility aid. It is common to utilize the toe of the wheelchair or leading edge of another mobility device to push open a door while moving through it. The smooth surface allows the footrest of a wheelchair or other mobility device that comes into contact with the door to slide across the door easily without catching.

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Five Misconceptions about Fair Housing Act Design and Construction Compliance

From “If I comply with the building code, then I comply with the Fair Housing Act” to “Everything is adaptable, so it doesn’t need to work day one, right?” – our accessibility consultants have heard it all. Here are five of the most common misconceptions about the Fair Housing Act that we come across on a regular basis…

1.  Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Not true. Following the accessibility requirements of the building code may not always satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Building codes and federal laws are mutually exclusive; a building department or building official is responsible for ensuring compliance with the code – not the law. And, HUD is responsible for enforcement of the Fair Housing Act – not building codes. Meeting the requirements of one may not always satisfy the requirements of the other. There is only one code, i.e., the International Building Code (2000, 2003, and 2006 editions, with a few caveats) that are HUD-approved ‘safe harbors’ for compliance with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Later editions of the code are not approved by HUD as meeting the requirements of the FHA. And, any edition of the International Building Code adopted by a local jurisdiction and edited to fit the context of the local jurisdiction is not a safe harbor for compliance. The general rule of thumb is to apply the accessible design and construction requirements of the code and the law and comply with the most stringent provision.

2.  Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act is not required at the time of design and construction. Because the Fair Housing Act permits adaptability, modifying a feature to accommodate a resident’s particular need is the best way to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

Not true. Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act at the time of design and construction is required. To say that its permissible to meet the requirements by adapting features as needed and only upon request makes the design and construction requirements of the Act meaningless. Adaptability is permitted by the law, but only after the minimum design and construction requirements are met. And, what is permitted to be adapted post construction is included in the technical standards. For example, a forward or parallel approach is required to be provided at a kitchen sink in a dwelling unit. In order to accommodate the front approach, the base cabinet must be designed to be removable, i.e., adaptable. Adaptability in this case is contemplated by the requirements for usable kitchens. On the other hand, a light switch is required by the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines to be installed below 48 inches above the finished floor. The Act does not permit the light switch to be installed higher and modified as requested. To install a light switch higher than 48 inches above the finish floor is in violation of the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines. Adaptability in this case is not contemplated or permitted by the requirements for usable kitchens.

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Top 10 Accessible Design Oversights: Hotels

Our Accessibility Team works on a wide variety of project types across the country, and each comes with its own unique set of challenges. It is common for even our most experienced accessibility consultants to encounter a design problem we have never seen before. However, there are also recurring issues that we see crop up again and again and again; common accessible design oversights that are not difficult to avoid if accounted for early enough in the design process.

In this post, we dive into the top ten accessible design oversights that our consultants find in…Hotels.

1. Dispersion of Accessible Guest Rooms

Guest rooms required by the ADA to include mobility features must be dispersed among the various classes of guest rooms provided. Accessible rooms need to provide guests with the same range of choice afforded to guests without a disability. Often, designers select one or two room types to meet the minimum number of accessible guest rooms required by the ADA (e.g., a King room and a Double Queen room) while failing to account for other room types and amenities. For example, if a hotel provides multi-room suites, king rooms, double rooms, rooms with couches or seating areas, rooms with kitchenettes, etc., then the number of required accessible rooms must be distributed among each of those room classes. Other factors to consider when dispersing accessible rooms include view, floor level, price, bathroom fixtures like hot tubs, or other amenities provided to guests. Only when a hotel contains more room classes than the number of accessible guest rooms required are you permitted to have rooms classes without an accessible equivalent. In this case, you still must disperse the accessible guest rooms in the priority of guest room type, number of beds, and then amenities.

2. Required Rooms without Roll-in Showers

When designing bathrooms for accessible guest rooms, many designers overlook the fact that there are a specific number of rooms required to provide roll-in showers, and a specific number that cannot include roll-in showers (i.e., the accessible bathing fixture must be a bathtub or transfer shower). We frequently review plans where all accessible guest rooms are designed with roll-in showers. Older codes and standards focused on ensuring that a minimum number of roll-in showers were provided, but they did not limit that number. As a result, hotels could be designed with all accessible guest rooms containing roll in showers; however, that is no longer the case under the current requirements. Despite common misconceptions, a roll-in shower is not necessarily the best bathing option for all guests. The variety of bathing fixtures required by the 2010 ADA Standards accommodates the needs of people with a range of disabilities.

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