Self-Storage Facilities and the Impact of ADA Building Guidelines

Leah Riley

Posted by Leah Riley

When thinking of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 to ensure accessibility of buildings to the physically challenged, the mind often invokes images of public buildings, city structures, restaurants, stores and the like. Often forgotten when thinking of ADA building guidelines are storage facilities. 

It’s easy to understand why such spaces are often forgotten. The original Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) passage of the law inadvertently omitted such facilities to fall under its purview, and the topic was inadvertently not addressed. As a result of this accidental neglect, the ADAAG Review Advisory Committee issued a recommendation to insert provisions into the law to cover self-storage facilities.

Consequently, storage facilities must have a set number of spaces that are accessible to their physically challenged customers. To that end, regulators set a percentage of such facilities to ensure accessibility. Generally speaking, 5 percent of the total area of a storage facility with up to 200 storage units must adhere to ADA accessibility standards. A full 10 percent of total space must be ADA-compliant for facilities having 201 storage units. A facility with less than 1 percent of such accessibility guidelines is thus deemed noncompliant.

The office portions of storage facilities are clearly explained in the original legislation, with guidelines set forth for such elements as ramps and door size. However, complying with ADA building guidelines as they relate to individual storage units can be a bit more confusing because some of the safeguards set forth by ADA for general construction are often at odds with the layout of a typical storage facility. Take slopes, for example. In typical construction, self-storage facilities must allow for a slope to be built into the grading that allows for water run-off away from the building. However, by one interpretation, ADAGG guidelines bar such slopes within five feet of each unit. Naturally, this creates special challenges in terms of the design of self-storage facilities.

To ensure compliance, some facility operators go through considerable expense, such as outfitting some units with electrical door openers in lieu of roll-up doors requiring manual operation. 

Given the inherent confusion in the ADA verbiage, it is critical for storage facility operators to ensure they are in compliance with the law. The urgency is heightened in light of steep fines associated with non-compliance. Civil penalties for noncompliance begin at $50,000 for the first infraction and could top $100,000 for subsequent violations. Then, of course, there are attorney’s fees to consider.

In July of 2010, addressing the original neglect of storage facilities, the U.S. Department of Justice issued revamped regulations for commercial buildings built or substantively altered before January 1991. The new regulations—this time also addressing self-storage facility compliance—went into effect in January of 2012.

The new regulations cover areas once at odds with mainstream construction, such as entry lips, required at commercial buildings but at odds with self-storage design. The updates detail the need for entry lips not to pose as a hindrance to a person in a wheelchair that might impede that person from entering a storage unit. Rental offices, bathrooms, and parking areas are also now more expansively covered with revamped guidelines to clear up lingering confusion on what constitutes accessibility.

Those confused about such ADA requirements are urged to contact regulatory agencies to clear up any issues. The U.S. Department of Justice has set up an office specifically dealing with ADA issues housed in its Civil Rights Division. The telephone number for the agency is (202) 514-0301. The snail mail address: P.O. Box 66118, Washington, D.C. 20035-6118. Another source of information is the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, reachable at (800) 872-2253. The physical address is 1111 18th Street NW, No. 501, Washington, D.C., 20036.

However, if all of this seems a bit overwhelming and confusing, why not contact Burnham Nationwide? Our experienced staff can help you navigate the laws and codes and find out just which ones are pertinent to your project and how to go about following them. Connect wtih us today!

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