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Housing Accessibility


Housing Accessibility

It is a common misconception that private residential housing is covered by the ADA. While the ADA does not apply to private residential housing, government-owned or operated housing and certain privately owned facilities that provide housing are subject to the ADA and its accessibility requirements. For example, the ADA will apply in areas such as public housing, student and faculty housing, nursing homes, temporary housing provided in emergencies, and social service facilities, such as homeless shelters. 

In the private sector, the ADḀs coverage of housing is limited to places of public accommodation, such as social service establishments and housing provided on or behalf a place of education, such as a dormitory. The ADA does not apply to individually owned or leased housing in the private sector not used as a public accommodation, including single family homes, condominiums, or apartments. Places of public accommodation located in residential buildings, such as rental and sales offices, commercial spaces, and hotel accommodations, are covered by the ADA Standards. While the ADA does not apply in certain residential settings, there is another federal law, known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), that typically applies to multi-family housing such as apartments and condominiums. 


About the fair housing act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act was first passed in 1968 and it prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. Discrimination based on sex was added in 1974. When the law was comprehensively amended in 1988, it was changed to include discrimination against people because of disability and because of familial status - the presence of children under the age of 18.

The Fair Housing Act covers almost all housing, public and private. The Act̥s accessibility requirements apply to "covered multifamily housing", which includes:

  • Housing designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991,
  • All dwelling units in buildings containing four or more units, with an elevator,
  • All ground floor units in buildings containing four or more units, without an elevator.

In order to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, there are seven basic design and construction requirements that must be met:

Requirement 1: An accessible building entrance on an accessible route.

All covered multifamily dwellings must have at least one accessible building entrance on an accessible route unless it is impractical to do so because of the terrain or unusual characteristics of the site

  • An accessible route means a continuous, unobstructed path connecting accessible elements and spaces within a building or site that can be negotiated by a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, and that is also safe for and usable by people with other disabilities.

  • An accessible entrance is a building entrance connected by an accessible route to public transit stops, accessible parking and passenger loading zones, or public streets and sidewalks.

Requirement 2: Accessible public and common use areas.

Covered housing must have accessible and usable public and common-use areas. Public and common-use areas cover all parts of the housing outside individual units. They include -- for example -- building-wide fire alarms, parking lots, storage areas, indoor and outdoor recreational areas, lobbies, mailrooms and mailboxes, and laundry areas.

Requirement 3: Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair).

All doors that allow passage into and within all premises must be wide enough to allow passage by persons using wheelchairs.

Requirement 4: Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.

There must be an accessible route into and through each covered unit.

Requirement 5: Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.

Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.

Requirement 6: Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars.

Reinforcements in bathroom walls must be installed, so that grab bars can be added when needed. The law does not require installation of grab bars in bathrooms.

Requirement 7: Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

Kitchens and bathrooms must be usable - that is, designed and constructed so an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver in the space provided.

The Fair Housing Act is enforced administratively by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). People who believe that they have been harmed by a violation of the Act may file administrative complaints with HUD, and HUD conducts an impartial investigation of the claims. You can learn more about the Fair Housing Act by visiting HUD's website below:


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