Washington, D.C. – 2003 marks the introduction of the next generation of major changes in the rules governing accessible design and construction in the commercial real estate industry – but it’s not coming from the federal government. This time, the new regulations governing accessibility will come from the adoption of model building codes and standards at the state and local level before the federal regulations are revised.
Following passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, or Access Board, developed the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) in 1991, which were then issued by the U. S. Department of Justice. ADAAG embodies the federal regulations that must be followed in the design and construction of buildings to ensure compliance with ADA. ADAAG provided a roadmap to follow that told us what to do to bring buildings into compliance with the law.
The Access Board is currently finalizing revisions to ADAAG. A Proposed Rule was published in the Federal Register in November 1999 and the Access Board has considered hundreds of comments since that time. In April 2002, the Access Board made a public review draft available and it is anticipated that a final rule will emerge in the near future. Once the Access Board publishes its final rule, the Justice Department will then conduct a rulemaking to finalize the revisions to the ADAAG.
Since the ADA is a civil rights law, it is enforced by action of an aggrieved party. However, this is neither an efficient nor an effective way to enforce regulations governing the construction, alteration, or renovation of buildings, as it does not take advantage of the traditional mechanism we have in the United States to implement and enforce building regulations – state and local government building officials and the adoption of model building codes.
There are over 40,000 state and local jurisdictions adopting building codes in this country, and building officials in each of these jurisdictions are charged with enforcing the regulations governing buildings and construction. BOMA has for many years advocated that accessibility provisions must be incorporated into the model codes adopted by the majority of these jurisdictions, and that local governments must include these provisions as they implement and enforce these codes.
Throughout the country, state and local authorities adopt and enforce model building codes that include requirements to make buildings accessible and usable by persons with disabilities. Since 1987, the International Code Council (ICC), formerly the Council of American Building Officials (CABO), has been the Secretariat for the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. Historically, the A117.1 Standard has been adopted by many state and local jurisdictions as the technical standard for accessibility. Along with the Access Board, the A117 Committee has worked diligently since 1995 to complement technical requirements in the A117.1 Standard with those in the revisions to ADAAG proposed by the Access Board.
Both the 2000 and the 2003 editions of the ICC International Building Code (IBC) reference the A117.1-1998 Standard. The 2003 IBC also includes accessibility provisions that have been harmonized with both the current ADAAG and the proposed changes to ADAAG. By adopting the IBC, a state or local jurisdiction assumes the role of enforcing accessibility requirements through typical code enforcement programs such as building permits, plan review, inspection, and issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.
In fall 2002, another national model building code was published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code (NFPA 5000) also includes references to A117.1-1998 for technical accessibility requirements. However, the initial 2003 edition of NFPA 5000 does not include many of the proposed scoping revisions to ADAAG or A117.1, as its development was completed prior to the release of the April 2002 Draft Final Rule.
Changes in how federal accessibility regulations impact the commercial real estate industry are clearly on the way. What will not change is the fact that the federal accessibility regulations for buildings as embodied in the current (and future) ADAAG will continue to be the law of the land for accessibility requirements in buildings. What will be different – and what will impact the commercial real estate industry more immediately – is that state and local jurisdictions will adopt national model codes and standards that include provisions that both mirror the federal requirements and include the most up-to-date provisions developed through the voluntary codes and standards development processes.
What is critical for commercial real estate professionals is that the resources necessary to understand and comply with these model codes and standards are available and current. To provide these resources, BOMA International has developed the Guide to ADA & Accessibility Regulations, which is now available.
For more information, please visit BOMA International’s website at (www.boma.org).