In March 2012, new accessibility standards went into effect for all private businesses, based on updates of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010. Here’s a look at what those updates mean to owners and operators of self-storage facilities.
Changes to ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 1990. The federal law established regulations designed to help people with disabilities gain access to buildings, transportation and accommodations, and to encourage fair treatment in the workplace.
However, when the legislation was enacted, it didn’t address the self-storage industry. After years of collecting feedback from disability advocacy groups, the federal government has introduced regulations that target all businesses, as well as rolling out provisions that apply to certain industries like self-storage.
Self-storage owners now must learn about the new ADA standards, as well as any recent state or local updates to building codes.
“There’s always a need to look at both federal and state code requirements,” said Christopher Chwedyk, director of the code group at Burnham Nationwide Inc., an ADA compliance consulting firm based in Chicago. “You must check city law and state law and ADA to understand where you fall and what requirements you need to address.”
Effects on the Self-Storage Industry
If a building started construction after March 15, 2012, two new rules apply specifically to the self-storage industry, said Jeffrey Greenberger, a partner at Cincinnati law firm Katz Greenberger and Norton LLP who practices self-storage law. Those rules are:
- Scoping—In facilities with up to 200 units, 5 percent of all units must be accessible to people with disabilities; for larger buildings, 2 percent plus an additional 10 units must be accessible.
- Dispersion—Accessible units must be “dispersed” among all “classes” of units. “What isn’t clear is what classes mean,” Greenberger said. “It’s hard to tell whether they’re referring to climate control, unit sizes or another factor.”
Another difficult question is what “accessible” means when it comes to self-storage.
“The definition of a disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits one’s activities,” Greenberger said, “but we don’t know what the disability is. Someone with asthma and someone in a wheelchair might have very different needs.”
In most cases, however, “accessibility” has been defined as providing access to people who have physical limitations, such as paraplegics.
In the case of a self-storage facility, one of the major hurdles to accessibility often is the unit door.
“With the average door, you have to roll it up and push it above your head,” Greenberger said. “I’ve been to some where they glide like silk, and others that are hard as heck to get up.” Under the new regulations, he said, “it shouldn’t be harder to open the door than picking up a gallon of milk.”
Another issue: Self-storage operators prefer driveways that slope away from the building so that rain doesn’t enter the units, but ADA rules require that accessible units have no more than 1 inch of rise in each foot of space.
What Does ADA Mean for You?
The good news is that even if your facility doesn’t comply with ADA right now, you don’t need to immediately renovate the building to meet the new guidelines.
Under the new regulations, ADA requires business owners to accommodate the new standards when they’re putting up a new building or renovating an existing one, or when a modification is “readily achievable,” meaning that a business can easily afford to make the changes.
Large businesses with substantial revenue will be expected to make more modifications than smaller businesses; small businesses might just update their accessibility standards when remodeling an existing facility or opening a new one.
“Unless you are building a brand-new facility, there would be little need to address the new requirements” right away, Chwedyk said.
However, if you undertake a major renovation, it’ll be important to ensure the renovated space complies with ADA. “Don’t do anything but a spruce-up without talking to a lawyer or architect,” Greenberger advised.
If you don’t comply with ADA regulations, you may face a complaint filed by a disability advocacy group or by someone with a disability. That could result in civil penalties of up to $50,000 for a first offense and even injunctive penalties, such as being banned from renting out new units until they meet ADA guidelines, Greenberger said.
Many Self-Storage Operators Are Prepared
While the updated guidelines include many new regulations that apply to the self-storage industry, they don’t come as a surprise to most facility operators. Many of the requirements, such as the 5 percent “scoping” accessibility guideline, were written into local building codes in advance of the new ADA rules, and licensed architects have been aware of the updates and have factored them into their building plans.
Crystal Tate, associate manager of Uncle Bob’s Self Storage in New Orleans, said the new regulations haven’t been a hassle.
“Nothing much has changed,” Tate said. “We already had wheelchair access according to standard building codes. We used petty cash to make any small changes. The ADA changes have not affected us much.”