New rules that may require some pool owners under specific circumstances to install permanent, fixed lifts to improve accessibility went into effect on Jan. 31, 2013. While most pool apartment firms will remain unaffected by the new requirements, those deemed “public accommodations,” i.e. open to the public, need to pay close attention to these new standards. An apartment community pool can be considered a “public accommodation” by allowing people beyond private residents and guests to use community pools.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) published revised regulations for Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2010, which cover state and local government facilities and services, as well as public accommodations and commercial facilities. The regulations initially set a compliance date of March 2012. However, due to the objections from the industry over the DOJ’s interpretation of the requirements, additional time was granted to meet the new accessibility requirements.
Pools that trigger the “public accommodations” obligations must provide an accessible means of entry/exit, such as a pool lift or sloped entry and either a transfer wall, transfer system, or pool stairs. The type of access and the number of entry/exit points depends on the size and type of pool structure, i.e., pool, spa, wading pool, etc. A DOJ guidance document issued in January 2012 stated that unless it is not readily achievable, a pool lift must be a permanent and fixed. DOJ acknowledged that earlier interpretations of the new standard may have prompted pool owners and operators to purchase portable lifts and, therefore, will not pursue enforcement against them, if they purchased the lifts before March 12, 2012.
Note that properties subject to HUD’s regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may be required to meet new compliance obligations related to the ADA pool accessibility provisions at some point in the future if HUD decides to adopt these standards. In addition, operators are advised to refer to their local code requirements relative to pool accessibility. The more stringent requirement prevails.