5 Tips for Landlord ADA Compliance

Is your rental property ADA-compliant? Would you like some simple solutions to bring your building into alignment with ADA regulations?

Adhering to ADA regulations keeps you from incurring huge fines, but it also makes your residential property available to a large pool of new renters. Compliance doesn’t have to be complicated. Learn 5 tips for landlord ADA compliance.

What Is The ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, protects disabled individuals from discrimination. It is the most extensive set of disability laws in the country, assuring rights and reasonable accommodations for those with legally defined disabilities so that they may work, live, and be a part of all areas of American communities.

There are five parts to the ADA:

  • Title I: Employment
  • Title II: Public Services
  • Title III: Public Accommodations
  • Title IV: Telecommunications
  • Title V: Miscellaneous

Public accommodations refer to any business that deals with the public, like restaurants, commercial leases, and retail stores. It also refers to multifamily residential dwellings, such as apartments, townhouses, duplexes, condominiums, nursing homes, and any building that has more than one housing unit inside it.

Title III of the ADA specifically deals with multifamily residential rental properties and the requirements that need to be met to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to public spaces.

The ADA compliance requirements don’t apply to individual housing units. Besides the ADA, other federal disability laws include:

What Does “Accessible” Mean?

A collection of accessibility icons on white squares on a white background.“Accessible” can be defined as any public space or utility, inside and outside a multifamily dwelling, that is “easy to approach, enter, operate, participate in, and/or use safely and with dignity by a person with a disability” (DC.gov, Office of Disability Rights.)

Accessibility features can include wheelchair ramps, elevator voice announcements, and reachable mailboxes.

What is Considered a Public Space?

Public space is generally defined as any space where people have a right of way or mostly unrestricted access. In an apartment, public spaces might include:

  • Parking lots
  • Entries and exits
  • Hallways
  • Elevators
  • Mailbox rows
  • Lobbies
  • Laundry rooms
  • Basements
  • Building amenities like pools or tennis courts
  • Water fountains

Why is Compliance Important?

ADA landlord compliance is important for four reasons:

  1. It allows disabled individuals fair, equal access to housing and public areas.
  2. It makes your business look good and keeps you from getting bad reviews.
  3. The fines for non-compliance are severe.
  4. Non-compliance opens the door for lawsuits.

Consider your bottom line as well. Removing barriers that prevent people with disabilities from renting in your building can be profitable. According to propertymanagerwebsites.com, “approximately 61 million people, or a quarter of the adult American population, live with a disability. This group has an estimated $645 billion in annual disposable income. That’s too big of a market segment to ignore.”

Who is Responsible for ADA Compliance?

Anyone who owns, operates, leases, rents, builds commercial buildings or multifamily dwelling units, or is a housing provider, is responsible for ADA compliance. Put simply, the burden of compliance falls on the landlord and the tenant.

If you own rental property, there are four main ADA regulations that apply to you as a landlord or property owner:

  1. You can’t ask if a potential or current resident is disabled unless they are asking for reasonable accommodations.
  2. You can’t refuse a lease based on the renter’s disability.
  3. You must make sure the public spaces of your rental property are ADA-compliant.
  4. Both you and your tenant are legally responsible for making reasonable accommodations.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

A young man in a wheelchair works on a laptop while sitting in the living room of his home.The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) definition of ‘reasonable accommodation’ is “… a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or to fulfill their program obligations.” In the language of the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is also called a “reasonable modification.”

The law requires landlords to make “reasonable” accommodations—if these accommodations or modifications can be made without undue hardship to landlords or to other residents, including the difficulty of renting a modified unit to another non-disabled renter in the future.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

  • Allowing a disabled renter to have a service animal despite a ‘no pets’ rule.
  • Providing handicapped parking spaces or giving a disabled renter a closer parking spot.
  • Adding grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Changing the rent due date to accommodate the renter’s income assistance payments.
  • Allowing live-in home health aides.

As a landlord, you can refuse requests for reasonable accommodations if:

  • The modification will cause you undue financial hardship.
  • The modification will make renting the altered unit more difficult in the future.
  • The request is not made by or on the behalf of a disabled renter.
  • The request is not related to the renter’s disability.

Since reasonable accommodations are a shared responsibility between the tenant and the landlord, you can allow a tenant to make modifications to their unit at their own expense, aside from what you are required to do by law.

You may also ask for proof of the disability and the reason for the accommodation.

Who Pays for ADA Modifications and Reasonable Accommodations?

Most often, landlords are financially responsible for making any modifications for disabled renters, especially outside and inside public areas, as required for ADA compliance. For example, the property owner would pay for the addition of handicapped-accessible parking spaces, lowered door peepholes, and proper hallway lighting.

Tenants are usually financially responsible for modifications to the inside of the rental unit. At the end of their lease, a landlord can request a tenant restore the unit to its original condition.

5 Tips for Landlord ADA Compliance

There is a lot a landlord needs to know to meet all federal requirements on fair housing. These tips can help you make affordable modifications, stay in compliance, create a sense of inclusion and community, and give you access to a new market of renters.

1. Make Small Changes with Big Results

An African American man's hand touches a sign with Braille markings on a brick wall.The idea of modifying your rental property may seem overwhelming, but you can make small, impactful changes without breaking the bank. Some examples of easier, cheaper adaptations you can implement are:

  • Update signs and mailboxes. Physical disabilities don’t always involve mobility issues. Blind and deaf individuals fall under the protection of the ADA, too. Add braille and larger print to your signage. Make sure you have large print rental agreements and other paperwork. You can also create audio recordings of all paperwork and notices that are available to those with limited vision.
  • Change the alarms. Outfit units and public spaces with visual and audible fire alarms and carbon monoxide alerts.
  • Create accessible rent payment protocols. For example, allow for individuals with mobility issues to have their rent check picked up, dropped off in a rental office, or mailed to you.
  • Change the public space doorknobs. This is a simple, easy change that makes a big difference. Lever handles on doors provide easier access than round doorknobs.

2. Know Your Trip Hazards

A trip hazard, as defined by the ADA, is a shift in any floor level over ¼ of an inch. This applies to surfaces inside and outside of your building. Trip hazards are especially dangerous for the disabled and the elderly. Uneven public sidewalks and private pavements are the most common trip hazards and need to be fixed to be ADA-compliant.

Other trip hazards include:

  • Improper lighting
  • Obstructed walkways
  • Pulled-up and worn carpets
  • Wet surfaces
  • Broken tiles or laminates
  • Open bottom drawers
  • Uneven stairs
  • Uncovered cables

There are many consultant companies available to do ADA compliance trip hazard surveys and make repairs to keep you, the landlord, ADA compliant.

3. Understand Website Compliance

Virtual leasing is becoming the new normal. Although there are some gray areas, your property management business website must be accessible to disabled individuals under Title III of the ADA. Your website needs to be coded correctly for screen readers, images need alt-tag descriptive text, color codes can’t be solely relied on to provide specific information, and much more. As a bonus, if your website is ADA-compliant, you will be able to attract more renters.

4. Double-Check Your Ramps

A blind woman with a walking cane stands in a long hallway. There is a strip of tactical raised domes on the floor in front of the woman.Wheelchair access is usually the first thing people think of when addressing accessibility. There are an estimated 3.3 million wheelchair or power chair users in the United States, which is why wheelchair ramps and mobility-friendly pathways are so important. Some requirements and modifications you can make to meet landlord ADA compliance are:

  • Install curb ramps and regular ramps. The ADA requires curb ramps and regular ramps for any height change over ½ of an inch.
  • Install railings on the ramps and stairs. Some people have mobility problems that don’t require a wheelchair but may require the help and stability railings provide.
  • Add tactical raised domes. Also called truncated domes, these early warning systems are mandatory at the top and bottom steps of public transportation but optional for property owners. If financially viable, adding them to your outside stairs or pavements will benefit your renters and your business.

5. Get Help and Verify Compliance

Landlords need to understand and follow state and federal laws in areas concerning fair housing for disabled renters. Once you are familiar with the regulations, assess your property for non-compliance issues both inside and outside the property.

It is always a good idea to get professional help from a lawyer or an ADA compliance agency to ensure that your rental properties are legal.  There are laws and codes that may apply to your building based on the year it was built, and new buildings require more disability-friendly plans from the start.

You can find more information on landlord ADA compliance at the United States Access Board.

The ADA And Property Managers

ADA compliance isn’t complicated, and there are many federal and state agencies and private consulting companies willing to help. To summarize:

  1. Do rental properties have to be ADA-compliant? Yes, in public areas if they are multifamily real estate properties.
  2. Who is responsible for ADA compliance? Both the landlord and the tenant inside the dwelling unit, but only the landlord in the building’s public areas.
  3. Do landlords have to comply with ADA? Yes, and the more prepared you are to remove barriers to disabled renters, the more potential for new tenants.
  4. Is ADA compliance all I need to care about? Laws outside of the ADA have additional requirements for new construction and buildings older than 1988. These include more handicap-accessible floor plans and adaptable units.

Landlord ADA compliance keeps you from breaking the law and paying large amounts of fines, shines a positive light on your management company, and affords you the opportunity to source new renters. Always do research on what regulations apply to your building and situation, and check for ways you can stay ADA compliant.

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