Accessibility Standards For Multifamily Housing: Report On Approaches with Focus on Slope, Reach, Tolerance And Measurement


The Blanck Group, a recognized leader in the disability community for their expertise in disability law and policy, has issue a report titled Accessibility Standards for Multifamily Housing: Report on Approaches with Focus on Slope, Reach, Tolerance and Measurement


The report seeks to investigate whether the current standards and existing safe harbors are the only means of achieving accessibility.  


After a lengthy process of research and analysis covering available settlement agreements, relevant administrative and court decisions, design studies and member focus groups, the report identifies the most critical design elements for developers and challenges the current standards as the only means of achieving compliance in these areas.


The areas for study and analysis included: (1) running and cross slopes; (2) reach ranges relative to environmental controls; (3) centering in kitchens and bathrooms; and (4) methods of measurement.


The Blanck Group worked in collaboration with their partners at the Center for Universal Design, a national research information and technical assistance center that develops, promotes and evaluates accessible universal design in housing, buildings and outdoor and urban environments.


The report's overall findings call into question the state of the science in the area of accessibility standards development. Their review and analysis support and recommend alternatives to current standards, notably the use of tolerances in lieu of strict measurement protocols as defined in various safe harbors. 


NMHC/NAA are hopeful that the findings of this report, which was supported by NMHC/NAA, will be helpful to member companies who are currently in litigation and/or settlement negotiations. 


UPDATE


The apartment industry won a significant victory in November 2011 when a judge rejected a claim that the only way to comply with federal accessibility regulations in designing and constructing properties is to follow federally standards approved by the federal government.


At issue was a Justice Department (DOJ) lawsuit filed against JPI Apartment Construction alleging a pattern and practice of failing to comply with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the American with Disabilities Act.


The judge rejected the DOJ’s request for summary judgment after the defense team led by Holland & Knight demonstrated that there are other ways to meet accessibility requirements and that failure to meet the standards favored by the U.S. does not constitute unlawful discrimination. The court concluded that the defendants had presented ample facts supporting a finding that the properties’ were generally accessible and usable by persons with disabilities. The matter is now positioned to proceed to trial.


NMHC/NAA and others in the apartment industry have long argued for the need for tolerances in determining compliance with accessibility requirements. Of note, an expert for the defense team cited this study in his testimony.