— By Dr. Andrae Holliday, Sr.
Accessibility requirements for your retail and restaurant parking lots.
According to ADA.gov, more than 50 million Americans — 18% of our population — have disabilities. Each one is a potential customer. Studies show that once people with disabilities find a business where they can shop or get services in an accessible manner, they become repeat customers. Are your parking lots ADA compliant? If you’re unsure, you could be losing business or — worse still — facing lawsuits and fines.
Since its inception in 1986 and being signed into law in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been an evolving proclamation. Under this law, retail and restaurant facility managers must be aware of the rules that govern the requirements for parking and accommodations for persons with disabilities. And, moreover, they are responsible for ensuring that their properties meet the requirements.
Leasing your stores or restaurants does not make you exempt either. The ADA places the responsibility for compliance on both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord and tenant might decide, through the terms of the lease, who will make the changes. However, both the tenant and the landlord remain legally obligated in the eyes of the requirement.
Regarding parking lots, some of the ADA regulations require simple mathematics, such as allocating the sufficient number of ADA accessible parking spots based on the number of total parking bays. But others are more difficult to assess and verify, such as proper slope for ADA accessible spaces. These “hidden liabilities” often go unnoticed, leading to safety issues that must be remedied immediately to minimize the chance of incidents, lawsuits and costly violation fees.
Enforcement of the ADA is most commonly done by local city agencies administering local ordinances. In addition, people frequently file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the authority to file suit in case of public importance or where there is a pattern of discrimination. Since 2015, there have been more than 40,000 lawsuits filed in federal court and the number continues to trend upward (Seyfarth Shaw LLP).
Fortunately, many of the issues that lead to violations can be spotted by someone trained in this area. If your facilities team does not have a certified ADA specialist on staff, it is highly recommended to partner with one to ensure compliance.
The ADA’s Regulations and the ADA Standards for accessibility, published in 1991, set the minimum for what makes a facility accessible. They were revised in 2010 and, while many of the standards carried over from the original 1991 published document, there are significant differences. Furthermore, the standards are used differently depending on whether a facility or business is making alterations to an existing building, constructing a new facility or building, or removing existing architectural barriers.
If a facility was built or altered during the last 20 years and is in compliance with the 1991 standards, or barriers were removed to specific elements in compliance with those standards, then the facility is complying, even if the newer 2010 standards have different requirements for them. This provision is referred to as the “safe harbor.”
For example, the 1991 standard requires one van-accessible space for every eight accessible spaces. The 2010 standards require one van-accessible space for every six accessible spaces. If the facility has complied with the 1991 standards, it is not required to add additional van-accessible spaces to meet the 2010 standards.
A word of caution, however. If your store or restaurant chooses to alter elements that are compliant with the 1991 standards, the safe harbor no longer applies. So if a parking lot is restriped, this would be considered an alteration. Therefore, it would then have to meet the ratio of van-accessible spaces to meet the 2010 standards.
It’s all a lot to consider. That’s why, when budgeting for FM, ADA compliance should be a budget all its own. In addition to funding for remediation and corrective repairs, allocate dollars for a subject matter expert to consult on any new construction projects. It can be especially tricky when you are planning new stores or restaurants in different parts of the country since each state, all the way down to local government agencies, has the right to set requirements above and beyond the federal standards set by the ADA. A subject matter expert will be able to aid in compliance efforts.
During the planning phase of a new site, the location of the buildings on the site as well as the grading plan around this building must be designed and laid out with ADA requirements in mind. It can be quite costly if your site is not designed to consider the requirements set up by the ADA. It is too late to consider these requirements after the site has been completed. The financial implications in fines and rework can exceed planned budgets if you are not proactive in your planning process. Requirements such as where to locate the ADA access points on your site in order to meet minimal travel distances; ensuring proper height of ADA signage; allocating the sufficient number of spots based on the number of parking spaces (i.e., 1 van access to every 6 handicap spaces in lots over 150 spaces); verifying the length and width of spaces to meet minimum requirement; and, most importantly, ensuring proper cross slope requirements for each space (maximum of 1:48).
When renovations are done on an existing site, the facility manager has an obligation to make the alteration accessible to the maximum extent feasible. Alteration is defined as remodeling, renovating, rehabilitating and reconstructing, or making any other changes that affect, or could affect, the usability of the facility. Be advised that, during a renovation or other operational activity, access interruptions are never permitted. Some form of access must always be maintained. All of the preparation is worth it of course and, in some cases, there can be tax credits of up to $15,000 a year for expenses related to ADA improvements. Be sure to consult with your tax advisor to understand all applicable tax laws that apply to your project.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure ADA compliance is to plan and be proactive. If you question whether your stores or restaurants meet the standards, act now! Partner with an ADA specialist; start evaluating your existing facilities. Train your staff on the ADA’s requirements so they know what to look for and can more easily spot any violations. And, include the ADA in your new store or restaurant expansion strategy — long before you break ground. Finally, consult the free information resources available whenever you have a question. Good upfront planning can save you time and possibly money down the road!
— Dr. Andrae Holliday Sr. is the operations director at Let’s Pave, headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois. He has extensive experience in construction engineering, operations and facilities management for retail, healthcare, religious institutions and governmental agencies.