New guidance released on federal accessibility requirements

3/3/99

WASHINGTON, DC – A multimillion dollar effort to enforce federal handicapped accessibility provisions is currently under way by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To help the apartment industry better understand and comply with these complex regulations, which are often more restrictive than local building codes, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC), American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) and National Apartment Association (NAA) have jointly produced a new Accessibility Review construction issues that recur frequently in federal accessibility enforcement actions and is designed to be a comprehensive resource for apartment and seniors housing professionals to use in reviewing properties for compliance with the relevant laws.

The 400-page manual includes:

  • A memorandum detailing areas to review for compliance self-reviews;
  • HUD, DOJ, and Access Board guidance concerning the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
  • Accessibility enforcement settlements; and
  • Other public information about federal accessibility laws.

As part of the Accessibility Review Manual, HUD has made available copies of the 1998 Fair Housing Design Manual at no additional cost.

In releasing the Manual, Jay Harris, NMHC/ASHA/NAA Vice President of Property Management, explained that "having built hundreds of thousands of accessible units since the Fair Housing Act Guidelines were released in 1991, the apartment and seniors housing industries are committed to helping house the disabled community. Nevertheless there continues to be confusion among architects, building code officials, contractors, investors, owners and developers about their accessible design responsibilities. To help apartment professionals correct potentially inadvertent noncompliance with federal accessibility law, NMHC/ASHA/NAA offer this centralized resource to improve industry awareness and understanding."

The associations note that there is still much work HUD can do to improve compliance with the federal accessibility requirements. NMHC/ASHA/NAA continue to urge the Department to complete its review and approval of the model building codes for compliance with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements. They point out that a clear understanding of the Act’s requirements in the design phase will better achieve the goal of expanding the supply of accessible housing and will solve the problem of costly retrofitting later.

The associations also call for HUD to direct more of its resources to increasing awareness of the Design Guidelines by all participants in each phase of the apartment design, construction, and regulation process. Notes Harris, "NMHC/ASHA/NAA will continue to work on industry education, as we have done since the regulations went into effect in 1991. In fact, the apartment industry published the first accessibility design guide, four years before the HUD-published Design Manual appeared. Nevertheless, the industry cannot replace the obligation of the government under the Fair Housing Act to educate all professionals involved in apartment design, construction, and regulation."

For every dollar of HUD funding that is allocated for fair housing education, three dollars go toward enforcement and administration. Furthermore, very little of that funding actually targets architects, code officials, contractors, investors, owners, and developers about their accessible design responsibilities.

The Accessibility Review Manual is available for $75 for NMHC/ASHA/NAA members ($250 for non-members) by calling NMHC at 202/974-2354. Complimentary review copies are available for the press by calling 202/974-2333.