The ADA, FHA, and apartment buildings: your disabled parking rights

| August 8, 2013 | 0 Comments
noncompliant apartment disabled parking rights

Even though this parking space is reserved for people with disabilities, someone in a wheelchair wouldn’t find it all that accessible (via Aaron Gustafson).

For people living with disabilities, accessible parking is absolutely critical, particularly when they live in an apartment building and parking is scarce. We get a lot of lively feedback here at MyParkingSign, and probably a good thirty percent of our comments are about issues regarding disabled parking rights for tenants at residential buildings like apartments.

We’ve heard of management companies removing the disabled parking signs, insisting that two roommates share one disabled parking space, or failing to penalize other residents who park in the reserved accessible spaces without permits. As many ADA coordinators and property managers already know, accessible parking is a complicated issue, but we’re going to do our best to explain how the federal laws apply to accessible parking at residential facilities.

How does the ADA apply to residential parking?

Most people will tell you that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers government buildings as well as public and commercial accommodations, but generally not private property. The reality is a little bit more complicated; there are residential facilities covered by the ADA, but only if they have areas or spaces open to the public. If a residential facility has a rental office, for instance, or if a high-rise condominium has commercial space on the ground floor, both would be considered “public accommodations” under Title III of the ADA, since they contain areas open to people other than residents and their guests.

Let’s say Building A has one assigned parking spot for each its 30 units, has a leasing office that’s open to the public, and was built after the ADA was enacted and thus was required to be built in compliance. The ADA Standards state: Parking for Residents. Where at least one parking space is provided for each residential dwelling unit, at least one parking space complying with 502 shall be provided for each residential dwelling unit required to provide mobility features complying with 809.2 through 809.4. Additional Parking Spaces for Residents. Where the total number of parking spaces provided for each residential dwelling unit exceeds one parking space per residential dwelling unit, 2 percent, but no fewer than one space, of all the parking spaces not covered by shall comply with 502. Parking for Guests, Employees, and Other Non-Residents. Where parking spaces are provided for persons other than residents, parking shall be provided in accordance with Table 208.2.

[2010 ADA Standards, page 66]

Note: 502 is the general requirements for parking spaces, such as the width of the access aisle, and the required signage.

So in Building A, the spaces that are assigned to the units designed for accessibility need to be compliant with all the aspects of section 502, which covers general requirements for parking spaces, such as the width of the access aisle, and the required signage.

Do older apartment buildings have to be ADA compliant?

Handicap parking: please be considerate

You shouldn’t have to ask nicely for accessible parking. View this sign here.

Many apartment buildings are older than 1991, and sometimes residents are told that their building is “grandfathered in” and doesn’t need to comply with the ADA, even if there’s a public element such as a rental office. However, this isn’t true. No matter the age of the building, tenants do have disabled parking rights.

There’s no grandfather exception to the ADA; the facility is expected to “remove barriers to access” whenever “readily achievable.” This language does cause a lot of uncertainty, since readily achievable is usually dependent on resources and cost, or on structural barriers. But in the case of parking, which unlike prohibitive staircases or narrow doorways can be comparatively easy to change with re-striping and signage, there should never be any reason not to comply with the law.

How does the Fair Housing Act fit in?

The ADA isn’t the only federal law that influences accessible parking when it comes to residences. The Fair Housing Act dates back to the late 1960s, and was originally created to combat discrimination based on race or gender, but in the late eighties was comprehensively amended to also combat housing discrimination based on disability.

Let’s imagine Building B: built in 2001, a 210-unit gated complex, comprised of three separate buildings with no public accommodation, and 300 general parking spaces for residents provided throughout the complex. Here, the Fair Housing Act enters the fray, in order to aid in enforcement and interpretation of the ADA. The FHA covers a variety of housing issues, relating to discrimination of tenants, but it also covers the issue of parking. Under the Act:

A minimum of two percent of the number of parking spaces serving covered dwelling units must be made accessible and they must be located on an accessible route; if different types of parking are offered, such as surface parking, garage, or covered spaces, a sufficient number of each type must be made accessible. [Fair Housing Act, page 2.23]

So Building B, with its 300 parking spaces, would need to provide at least six spaces to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Indeed, the FHA goes on to stipulate that this is only the minimum requirement for accessibility. If additional spaces are needed in order to reasonably accommodate a resident with a disability after the buildings are constructed, additional accessible parking spaces may be required, and spaces may need to be moved throughout the facility to accommodate the “shortest accessible route” for anyone with a disability.

There are some exceptions to the FHA. The design and construction requirements only apply to “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed “for first occupancy” after March 13, 1991, and the law exempts multifamily dwellings with fewer than four units, or multifamily townhouses unless they have an elevator.

Further resources on the ADA and FHA

Ultimately, complying with the ADA and the FHA and providing adequate and reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities isn’t always easy. Residents may have to argue with management or landlords to force compliance, or even contact their state housing authority or ADA coordinator to escalate the issue when they feel there has been non-compliance. And of course, there seem to be as many exceptions as there are rules in the complex language of the law. Still, the law does provide protection for your disabled parking rights.

We’ve pulled together some resources and documentation that we find helpful when researching our readers’ questions; we hope they help you, too.

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Fair Housing Act Design Manual

HUD: Accessibility Requirements for Buildings

Fair Housing Accessibility First – Parking FAQ

Parking for People with Disabilities – Iowa [contains a great explanation of when the federal standards apply]

Category: Regulations