Clearing Up the Confusion: Understanding Accessibility Codes for Continuing Care Communities

Josh Rucker

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Sep 30, 2022

A continuously aging American population coupled with a cultural sense and yearning for independence has helped to increase the demand for retirement communities with different levels of care. Often referred to as Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), these facilities are popping up throughout the United States. In addition to providing residents with access to a variety of supportive services, like health care, personal and social services, these facilities help residents maintain a more independent lifestyle while allowing them the opportunity to age-in-place.

Unfortunately, accessibility provisions under local building codes and federal standards often come to a head when trying to understand the level of accessibility required in such facilities. We outline some of the applicable provisions that need to be considered when assessing accessibility.

The Difference Between Building Codes and Federal Accessibility Provisions

Without going into great detail, it is important to know the difference between building codes and federal accessibility standards. For residential facilities that provide a continuum of care, there is often a disparity between building code accessibility provisions and federal accessibility standards. This can lead to varied interpretations by those having enforcement responsibilities.

Building codes are specific to building use and occupancy and enforced by local authorities having jurisdiction. Federal accessibility provisions, on the other hand, are found under disability civil rights laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Rehabilitation Act. They include, but are not limited to, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, and safe harbors approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Federal accessibility provisions are enforced through investigations of complaints and/or litigation.

Deciphering Accessibility Requirements for CCRCs

More often than not, the first roadblock in understanding the applicable accessibility provisions for Continuing Care Retirement Communities is trying to determine the required number of accessible dwelling units required in the facility. To analyze these issues, one must first acknowledge that prescriptive requirements in the building codes and federal accessibility standards are not fully aligned.

CCRC facilities may be classified as an Institutional Group I occupancy under model building codes and defined as Institutional Group I-1 or I-2. Group home, assisted living, congregate care and other similar facilities that provide more custodial care may be further classified as a Group I-1, Condition 1 or Condition 2, which outline different accessibility scoping provisions for the required number of accessible dwelling units.

For example, a facility classified as Group I-1, Condition 1 would require at least four percent of the dwelling units to be accessible. A facility classified as Group I-1, Condition 2 would require at least ten percent of the dwelling units to be accessible. A facility that provides a level of medical care that equates to an Institutional Group I-2 classification, such as a nursing home, would require an even higher percentage of accessible units be provided in the facility. The percentage of accessible units is generally based on the anticipated need for accessible features.

International Building Code Institutional Group I Accessible Units

At the same time, federal accessibility standards also likely apply to the facility and may have differing requirements. The federal Fair Housing Act accessibility requirements generally apply to CCRC facilities constructed after March 13, 1991, and require a lower level of accessibility often referred to as “adaptable” regardless of the level of care provided. The ADA poses more complex provisions and/or considerations for CCRC facilities.

The ADA Standards outline provisions for licensed, long-term care facilities and social services establishments, among other types of facilities. A licensed, long-term care facility under the ADA Standards would require fifty percent of the dwelling units to be accessible, which is a significant increase from the four percent and ten percent previously mentioned under model building code Group I-1 classification.

However, if the building is considered to be a social service center establishment under the ADA regulations, then only five percent of the units would be required to meet accessibility requirements outlined under the ADA residential facilities provisions. In the case of a facility classified as an Institutional Group I-1 under the model building code, the ADA Standards do not prescriptively scope in such a facility and, therefore, the applicable required number of accessible dwelling units per the ADA is often open for interpretation. This is where most of the confusion and liability rests.

The following table outlines the required minimum number of accessible units based on the classification and use per building code as well as the ADA scoping provision that most closely aligns.

International Building Code Institutional Group I and ADA Accessible Units

We Can Help You Understand Accessibility

Needless to say, the difference in building code provisions and federal accessibility standards, and how each are interpreted, can have a significant impact on the number of accessible units provided as well as building programming and operations. Jensen Hughes takes pride in working with our clients to more fully understand the depth and breadth of accessibility provisions for facilities like CCRCs. We can provide you with the information you need to create a more accessible environment. Learn more about our accessibility code consulting services.

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About the author

Josh Rucker
Mr. Rucker has an extensive background in providing guidance, leadership, and technical assistance on conformance with state and federal disability-related laws and regulations and building codes.