Reach A Wider Rental Audience By Making Your Building Wheelchair Accessible
By Brett McKee
While the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodations and commercial facilities, many apartment buildings are not wheelchair accessible. It is illegal for apartment managers to discriminate based on handicap but it is not uncommon for apartment managers to skirt around the issue to avoid the costs of getting a building up to ADA code. In fact, the multifamily firms of JPI and Equity Homes were recently sued for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.What many apartment managers do not realize is there are affordable and non-permanent ways to make a building or apartment handicapped accessible. Not only will your building be in compliance with the ADA but it will also make your rentals available to the over one million Americans who use wheelchairs and the over 54 million with some sort of disability. Apartment managers may also be faced with circumstances where people need a wheelchair on a short-term basis, such as if a tenant is recovering from an injury or surgery. The same goes for if you are showing a model unit for potential tenants to see. If the building is not wheelchair accessible, you may lose a reliable renter but consider the other options available – like buying a ramp and reusing it as it is needed – to ensure your property appeals to other potential tenants in the same situation.
Renters also can become injured or disabled and are no longer able to navigate the steps to their apartment. An investment in a ramp by the apartment owner can help to retain a renter with a track record of paying their rent on a timely basis.
When people need a ramp, they often automatically think of wooden ramps because that is all they are familiar with but wooden ramps require building permits, take a while to construct and can often cause damage to a building when disassembled.When considering a ramp system for use at a multi-unit apartment building or mixed-use development, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:
What about cost? Steel is always the lowest in cost in terms of both materials and labor. Wood can be the lowest if labor is donated or handled by an employee but is the highest in cost if done by a contractor.What about maintenance? Steel will rust just like porch rails and fences do if it is not touched up occasionally. Wood requires more maintenance and should be treated with a wood sealer several times per year (once in early spring and once in late fall).
What about safety? Wood, concrete and aluminum are all solid surfaces and allow moisture to accumulate and create potential slip and fall situations. Wood rots and can become quite dangerous as it deteriorates but steel has a gripping texture that makes it non-skid. Steel also has an open pattern ramp surface, which allows moisture to pass through and retards hazardous ice film.
What about rentals? Ramps should be rented if they are needed for six months or less. This way, when the tenant requiring the ramp moves out of the building, the ramp can be easily removed and returned to the rental company or transported to a different property for similar short-term usage.
What about durability? Again, wood rots while steel and concrete last for ages in virtually any climate. And in terms of strength, steel is the way to go: It is three times harder than aluminum and two-thirds stronger, meaning you will need much less steel to produce the results of an equally-sized aluminum structure.
What about proper ramp design? Carpenters and general handymen have limited knowledge about what makes a safe and ADA-compliant ramp. It is best to use the services of a locally-based industry expert to ensure compliance as well as safety. Also, managers should be sure ramps do not to encroach on shared walkways or city sidewalks.
What about appearance? Wood ramps can be painted or stained to blend in seamlessly with existing decks, stairs or building exteriors. Steel can look like wrought iron and concrete can match a walkway but aluminum is shiny and commercial in appearance and not very suitable for residential applications.
What about moving and changing a ramp after it is purchased? Steel and aluminum ramps are portable and can be lengthened or shortened as necessary. This is not an option with wood or concrete ramps, as these materials are far more permanent.
What about the possible resale value of a ramp? There is a market for used steel and aluminum ramps after they are no longer needed. They can either be sold to another management company for use at a different property or the materials can be sold for scrap.
What about availability? Steel and aluminum ramps can be delivered from pre-manufactured stock in days – perfect when the need for a ramp is immediate and integral – but the construction of wood and/or concrete ramps depend on contractors’ responsiveness and skill. Depending on their schedules and levels of expertise, this process can take weeks or even months to complete.
What about excavation of property? Concrete frost footings are required for wood and concrete is subject to settling. Steel and aluminum ramps, however, are designed with adjustable support structures and can be easily realigned, meaning excavation is generally not needed for ramps made with these materials.
What about devaluation of property? Unfortunately, ramps will bring down the value of a home upon resale since only 1 out of 200 people use a wheelchair. There are significant costs to removing and disposing of wood and concrete ramps and footings but if a steel ramp is utilized, both the installation and removal do not alter the structure or grounds physically at all.
What about building permits? Wood and concrete ramps are permanent modifications to a home and thus require permits to erect. Steel and aluminum modular ramps are classified as reusable, durable medical equipment (DME) and do not require permits because of this distinction.
What about taxable revaluation of property after a ramp is installed? The building permit process includes reassessment of the property after the permit is issued. For ramps that do not require building permits, taxable revaluation is a non-issue.
What about portability? Aluminum and steel ramps have handles for portability and due to the strength and stiffness of steel, thinner structures are possible. Although steel and aluminum ramp sections weigh about the same, aluminum is bulkier and has more braces due to its lower material strength.
As more Americans – specifically the elderly and veterans – look to downsize from their larger homes into smaller living spaces, the need for accessible housing options is only going to increase. For apartment managers, this means not only an influx of potential new tenants but the need for their properties to meet ADA codes and compliances.
Fortunately, meeting these requirements has gotten much easier and much more affordable in recent years with the advent of different materials, services and providers. Now, instead of installing a cumbersome wooden ramp that may only be used for a short while, managers have a less permanent option in portable, modular steel ramps that can be installed and useable within a matter of hours instead of weeks. With these solutions available almost immediately, it doesn’t make sense for any building to be inaccessible.
About the author
Brett McKee is the owner of Amramp in Torrance, California. Amramp is America’s leading low-cost, steel modular ramp system available to rent or buy with no minimum sizE. For more information, visit www.amramp.com or call (310) 530-1570.