Multifamily Building Conformance With The Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines
The Fair Housing Act (the Act) requires that “covered multifamily dwellings” built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, be designed and constructed to include certain features of accessible design. Covered multifamily dwellings are found in buildings consisting of four or more units, if such buildings have one or more elevators, and ground floor units in other buildings consisting of four or more units. The Act’s design and construction requirements apply to privately owned housing, federally or publicly assisted housing, and to all types of housing when the housing is located in buildings containing four or more dwelling units, including, for example, single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, dormitories, assisted living developments, time-sharing properties, and homeless shelters when used as a residence. The requirements do not apply to multi-story town homes that do not have elevators or to single-family detached houses. As part of its obligation to provide technical assistance to states, units of local government, and others, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines (the Guidelines) in l991. The Guidelines are intended to provide a safe harbor for compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Although these Guidelines are not the only method of complying with the Act, they are the most commonly known and utilized by the industry.
In 1997, HUD commissioned this study to obtain a quantitative assessment of the extent of conformance with the Guidelines and to suggest explanations for patterns of conformance and nonconformance. The study was developed in part because evidence from the field, complaints filed with HUD, and private litigation suggested that some architects, contractors, and building owners were either ignorant of, or were avoiding, the law and were building multifamily projects that did not comply with the Act’s design and construction requirements. There was also a need for HUD to have baseline information on the extent to which covered multifamily dwellings were in compliance in order to measure the effects of its technical assistance and enforcement efforts. It was hoped that the results of the study could provide HUD with a better understanding of the level of compliance across the United States, as well as provide some guidance on how to improve compliance with the Act’s requirements.
The study is descriptive in nature: it provides a statistical picture of multifamily housing conformance with the Guidelines. The study gives a broad national view of conformance but cannot be used to extrapolate about local conditions. Building design and construction are regulated at the local and/or state level; as a result, localities are subject to different building code and/or local accessibility requirements. This can have an impact on conformance at the local level, and as a result, the report’s findings may differ with local reports of conformance in cities and states around the country.
The data gathered and analyzed for this report do not answer the question of why housing either meets or does not meet the Guidelines. The study does present possible explanations for the statistical findings; however, it is important to note that the survey did not allow for “shades of gray” in determining conformance with the Guidelines. The survey gathered data on whether certain elements of multifamily housing either met or did not meet the Guidelines, not the degree of overall conformance. The survey consisted of 291 separate questions about technical items relating to accessibility. Neither the questions nor the results were weighted, and all items were treated equally. Some readers may appraise one item as “more important” than another, but the survey does not offer value judgments on the nature of conformance. Moreover, the degree of nonconformance was not considered, so that a 1-inch deviation from a requirement was treated equally to a 10-inch deviation. Thus, the survey measured and recorded levels of nonconformance that might not warrant enforcement action in the field, and the result is a report that simply describes the rates of conformance for multifamily housing in meeting the Guidelines.