Not clear what's required to make apartments accessable

Wiki sez:
"Among the protection for people with disabilities in the 1988 Amendments are seven construction requirements for all multifamily buildings of more than four units first occupied after March 13, 1991. These seven requirements are as follows:

  1. An accessible building entrance on an accessible route.
  2. Accessible common and public use areas.
  3. Doors usable by a person in a wheelchair.
  4. Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.
  5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
  6. Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars.
  7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms."

My questions:

  1. How wide is that in inches? Is it the common width now, or wider than most units today?
  2. How wide do halls have to be to be accessible? I presume wider than doors, to allow turning a wheelchair.
  3. How high and low can you place light switches and outlets? Is it the common modern standard or more restrictive?
  4. Do you have to reinforce the walls for grab bars? Why not just attach them to the existing studs?
  5. Does this really mean that every unit has to have empty areas (for wheelchair leg room) under every sink and cooktop? And lower countertops for seated use?

I tried to read the actual regulations, but got lost in the legalese after the first few dozen pages.


I think the doors are 36" (slightly wider than normal) and hallways are 48" but I’m not positive.

Usable kitchens need at least one counter that’s lower (typically 8" here") that you can roll a wheelchair under, but it is acceptable to use a standard stove and have standard cabinets and such elsewhere in the kitchen.

Light switches and door handles seem to be about six inches lower in accessible units.

If you are looking at buying apartments or remodeling them yourself, I would strongly recommend talking to an inspector, architect, contractor, etc. who knows what they are doing. Local codes could be more restrictive than national ones.

No, it’s not a personal interest (why do General Questions responders always assume that), it’s a General Question. I don’t care about local codes, just the one mentioned.

Because where you need to have the grab bars may not be where the studs are in the best place … we gave up at my moms place and just ran a grab bar the entire length of one hallway and one whole bathroom wall.

In my bathroom here at home, I have one by the toilet [i can use the sink on the other side] and one by the shower.
*note - I can still walk with crutches most days, so we have not yet added either a shower to replace the tub/shower or one of the seats that slides and turns so you move onto it from the chair and slide under the shower

You really need to contact the Building Codes division of your local city or county. The regulations vary so much, even within a state, that any advice you get from a message board like this may be outdated.

Get a little money for your tax dollar and go straight to the source. The advice is free, but you will probably need a building permit to actually make changes. You wont be legally able to rent the apartment without an inspection anyway. There are a number of issues, such as egress, (ability to get out in an emergency) that are continually changing. The height for railings used to be 36", now it is 42", but I have been out of the biz for a year so it might be something else now. There is a requirement that the slope of a wheel chair ramp is X degrees. Etc.

The building codes people will tell you just what needs to be done. That’s what they do, and what you are already paying tax dollars for. You could spend a lot of money guessing and still have the codes people make you change something when you are done. If you involve them from the begining you are less likely to have problems passing inspection.

You really have to go through the codes dept. for insurance and liability reasons anyway.

Maybe because people asking for specific measurements are usually trying to build to them…

To actually answer the question, this document looks awesome: Fair Housing Act Design Manual

It has whole chapters on what each of those bullet points mean, with diagrams.


I do NOT need to do any of those things. I do NOT really have to go through the codes dept. See my comment #3 above.

Thanks, that’s the level I was looking for. A paragraph to say what the title line means, but not sheafs of law text.

As for the point in #3, I think it is not assumed the OP is necessarily planning to do what he asks about (unless he specifically says one way or the other), but that, seeing the question in a vacuum, the question of whether the OP was hypothetical and informational or founded on a concrete need involving the OP’s future plans, is one that is not clear either way. If, for example, someone asks a question about inheritance or rules of the road, and I know the answer depends on state law but that there is a generally accepted standard used by most states, I’ll give the generally accepted standard with a caveat that it is subject to state law and if there’s an actual issue underlying the question, one needs to check with ___ in their local/state government/laws before proceeding. The first answer satisfies the hypothetical/informational person; the caveat ensures someone does not depend on my answer in a state that doesn’t conform to the modal norm.

  1. 2’-10" door is considered wide enough, you need actually 2’8" clear at the doorway. A 2’10" door with the hinge is actually just a hair shy, but it has been ruled acceptable. Today a 2’10" door is a common door size.

  2. 3’0" is an accessible hallway. There is NO requirement to turn a wheelchair in the hallway per se except having the 36" accessible pathway. There needs to be a 36" wide accessible pathway through the hall. However given that a 2’10" door is required, by the time you add the door bucks, etc you will be at roughly a 3’4" hallway, but only 3’0" is required. There are no special requirements for the switch if that is what you are asking.

  3. I am taking off the top of my head now as I don’t recall the specific requirements, but I believe the outlets can’t be higher then 15" above the floor to the lowest outlet, as to the light switches as I recall it is 48".

  4. There is a requirement for reinforcing for the grab bars, but NO grab bars are required to be installed. The reason for the reinforcing is that the studs will NOT be at the standard locations required for the grab bars. And the grab bars are intended to be installed if needed and you don’t want to be going in and taking out drywall to install the blocking, so it is required to be there when the project is built.

  5. No. Some local jurisdictions may require this for a certain percentage of units. And some jurisdictions also confuse the ADA with the FHA. Also note that neither of these are codes–they are laws. Building officials generally do not enforce laws, that is handled by the courts and people suing. The codes have incorporated many of these items into their Chapter 11 of their local codes–if you were going to review the local codes, I would concentrate on typically Chapter 11 and any local amendments.

If you have further questions, feel free to ask here, or PM me. I do lots of multi family housing so I am very familiar with both the FHA and the ADA. The link provided is a good resource too.

Good luck!

Hakuna Matata Thanks. Best answer by far. No, I’m not building anything or handicapped myself. Just was trying to follow a news story which mentioned it and wondered if normal homes I’ve occupied would qualify. That is, I wondered if the law was just requiring common items or making new construction more expensive to benefit a few. Seems it was the former, that most buildings can accommodate people without expensive changes that would cause “anti-government intrusion” outrage.

Single family homes are exempt from the FHA. The intent in multi family situations is that there is simple accommodation without undue expense. Basically if I am Handicaped and I live in unit 103, I should be able to come to your unit 504 and be able to use your restroom, get around your apartment, etc without creating great difficulties. It really is more about clear floor space in front of everyday items to accommodate a wheelchair then anything else. Additionally if I need grab bars it should be an easy adjustment by the apartment maintenance crews without undue delays.

I don’t believe this law has caused extensive cost additions to construction. It really is more about ‘thinking’ about these issues before the fact then after. However there have been several projects where the developers chose NOT to meet the requirements and were sued under this act and they did incur considerable costs. It is much cheaper to include them in the design then to retrofit afterwards.