How do ADA Requirements Apply to Your Building?

Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom

What exactly is ADA? It is the American Disabilities Act. What does that mean to you if you are buying a property? Will you have to make costly changes to the site? What kind of changes will I need to make, if any, if I decide to buy this property? The answers to these questions are of concern to all buyers of Multi-Family or Commercial buildings. Below is a very brief explanation of some of the most basic aspects of ADA requirements.

What is the ADA?

The ADA definition of disability is – “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” This Federal bill was passed in 1990. It was updated in Jan of 2009. It covers everything from how you access a building to how you can hire and fire. I am only going to briefly discuss guidelines for providing access to individuals with disabilities.

This federally mandated guideline is a very thick book with so many different details and contingencies that each aspect must be looked at for your individual case in order to determine what may or may not be needed. I have gone over these points with a colleague with expertise in this subject who has consulted on many projects. The requirements vary widely depending on how the building will be used.

When Upgrades are Needed

First and foremost, if you are buying a property and are making no changes to it and this includes how it is to be used, you don’t have to make any upgrades regarding ADA access requirements.

Where it can get interesting is if you are making a change of use, such as making a retail store into a restaurant or doing upgrades of any kind that require a permit. For the most part, when you are doing upgrades, which means going to the building department, pulling permits and doing work, you will be required to comply with an approximately 20 point checklist regarding access. This can be anything from the width of the entry doors to ramps, railings, hallway widths, bathroom access, etc.

Generally, you are required to allocate up to 20% of the total amount of your construction funds toward these upgrades. For example, if you have a project where you are going to do $100,000 worth of work, you will be required to have, and to show, $20,000 of it going toward ADA requirements as listed out by their guidelines. Once you reach the 20% amount you will no longer be required to spend any more money toward ADA requirements.

"Hardships" & Your Property

If there is a “hardship” from a physical standpoint in complying with some of the requirements, you can petition to have these waived. An example is: the building is tight up onto the street and has steps but does not have enough space to install a ramp. These factors are looked at on an individual basis. If you decide to build more office spaces in your warehouse these guidelines may also come into play.

As I mentioned, this is a very basic outline of these requirements. The bottom line is that if you are going to buy a property and make any upgrades to it you will have to adhere to the guidelines as listed by ADA.

When you hire Commercial Real Estate Inspectors to do your real estate inspection, we can help advise you as to the best course of action for you and your building.