Magazine article Journal of Property Management

ADA Compliance in Real Life

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

ADA Compliance in Real Life

Article excerpt

Already part of building code in at least two states, the Accessibility Guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are quickly growing teeth. As the law develops into more than just a piece of civil rights legislation, it places an even greater burden on property managers to bring buildings up to compliance. The following three case studies illustrate how managers in different states are coping.

The building code boogie

California underwent a dramatic building code change effective April 1, 1994. The state incorporated the Title III Accessibility Guidelines of the ADA into Title 24 of the state building code regulations.

"There's no excuse now not to comply," says Don Petros, CPM [R], general manager of the Imperial Bank Tower. He adds that many of the state's property managers and building owners are still just hearing about the change. The new code requires building owners requesting permits for upgrades, renovations, or new construction to already be in compliance with the ADA modifications, or else agree to address the ADA issues in order to get their permits.

At the Imperial Bank Tower's 543,000 square feet of multi-tenant space, the new codes have jump-started the owner's plans for compliance. "We were on a program to comply within the next two to three years. Now it will be more like one to two years," Petros says.

The company is presently working with an architectural firm to implement the ADA retrofit plan.

The list of changes necessary includes elevator upgrades, garage-related improvements, replacing existing water coolers, replacing orbital hardware with levers, adding braille signage, installing strobe emergency lighting on every floor, and retrofitting the lobby--as well as restroom renovations like dropping urinals, replacing faucets, moving partitions, and wrapping and insulating exposed pipes.

When asked how they are prioritizing the changes, Petros says the path of travel improvements come first, and then the ancillary areas like the restrooms, drinking fountains, and common areas. He adds that the fire and life safety issues take the highest priority in both categories. Petros estimated the percent each change would cost.

Conquering the maze

Unlike California, Illinois has not adopted the federal standards, but according to Elaine Hoff, chief of the disability rights advocacy division for the Illinois Attorney General's office, the legislature is working on updating the Environmental Barriers Act (EBA) to bring in the parts that are more stringent from the federal code.

While one might imagine separating the ADA from the building codes would reduce the pressures of compliance, property manager Robert Finke disagrees. President of his recent start-up, Phynyx Realty Services, Inc., and a 20-year veteran of the commercial property development and management industry, Finke says, "There is a labyrinth of codes. It just goes on and on."

While many federal laws pre-empt state and local regulations, the ADA clearly requires building owners to comply with the strictest applicable code.

So for example, for each standard retrofit--say for instance bringing your toilets into compliance--property managers must know and be aware of not only the ADA, but the Illinois EBA, the Illinois plumbing codes, as well as the city of Chicago (or BOCA) plumbing codes.

Using information gleaned from the database of resources he developed over the years, Finke devised his own ADA checklist, "fine-tuned specifically for buildings in the Chicago area." This was no small task, considering the number of codes that apply to each individual area.

Even with his own checklist, however, Finke recommended a formal review of the properties he is currently rehabbing to his owners. "The law is sufficiently complicated that I wanted to make sure that I had an expert look it over," he says.

His most recent retrofit: two older, three-story office buildings for ADA compliance as well as for aesthetics and other owner specifications. …

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