The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was first signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of public life, including employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. Since 1990, a number of modifications have been made to ADA guidelines that impact self storage facilities. Here’s what self storage owners need to know to be compliant.
What Are the ADA Requirements for Accessible Storage?
Like most laws, ADA compliance has evolved since becoming law in 1990. Back then, under Title III of the Act which deals with public accommodations (private businesses that offer goods and services to the public), they would simply have had to make the facility’s office accessible by wheelchair.
So what does ADA accessible mean today? Under the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), the act specifically addresses accessible self storage (or “scoping requirements”) which requires that facilities maintain a specific number of units as accessible. ADAAG also specifies required modifications that must be made in order to be in compliance.
Penalties for Non-Compliance with ADA Requirements
You may be wondering, “What happens if a self storage facility is non-compliant?” In a nutshell, it can cost you in court. Complaints asserting a violation of the ADA are often filed in federal district courts, although state courts also have jurisdiction to hear these cases.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), people filing lawsuits under Title III of the ADA is on the rise for both brick-and-mortar buildings and online websites. In fact, data shows that more than 11,000 people filed an ADA Title III lawsuit in 2021—nearly a 5% increase from 2020 and a 320% increase since 2013. So, be sure to stay in compliance to avoid a potential lawsuit.
Building or Remodeling Your Facility to Meet ADA Compliance Standards
If you’re building a new facility, be sure your self storage architect understands ADA compliance standards and plans for them. If you’re remodeling to meet ADA storage requirements, here’s what you need to know.
NOTE: Some states, such as California, have state-specific ADA requirements as well as those required by federal law. Always be sure to check that you are in compliance with state requirements as well.
1. Number of Accessible Units (Scoping Part 1)
Scoping refers to the number of units you’re required to have that are accessible to disabled individuals. It all comes down to how many units you have. For example, if your facility has 200 units or fewer, just 5% of the units must comply. Facilities that have more than 200 total units are required to have 10 accessible units plus 2% of the excess.
2. Number of Accessible Unit Types and Sizes (Scoping Part 2)
The ADA scoping requirement also means you must have dispersed your ADA storage units among your various classes of units. So, if your property consists entirely of 10x10 units that aren’t temperature-controlled, that’s easy. However, if you have different unit sizes and offer some temperature-controlled units, you’ll have to spread accessibility among them.
For example, say you have a mix of 5x10, 10x10, and 10x15 storage units, some with climate control and some without. You could potentially have accessible 5x10 & 10x10 climate controlled, and 10x15 non-climate controlled unit mixes. This ensures that someone with a disability isn’t forced to rent a unit that is too large or too small for their needs because it’s the only compliant unit.
It’s important to understand that you don’t have to build additional disability-accessible units to have one of every type and style. Even if you have a lot of variety in your units, you still only have to hit the number required under scoping. Additionally, you don’t need to hold an accessible unit just for a disabled customer if there are no other units available. So, if the only available 5x10 climate-controlled unit is accessible, and a non-disabled customer wants to rent it, you are able to do so.
3. Accessible Facility
Once you’ve identified the units to be made accessible, the entire path to these units must be made accessible, including an ADA compliant hallway. This also means the amount of slope permitted in the drive aisles may need adjusting. The requirement is 1” per foot of rise or fall. Because many storage facilities have sloped drive aisles to move water away from units/buildings, they may be in violation of an ADA requirement.
Additionally, you need to consider gate keypad accessibility, unit latch accessibility, and the ease of opening and closing the unit door. Your main office plus any restrooms must also comply with ADA guidelines.
4. Required Modifications
The ADA requires some modifications to consider units accessible. For swing doors, a pull – one that includes a loop large enough to fit a fist – must be installed on the door no lower than 15” and no higher than 48”. A plaque with braille must also be clearly displayed on the outside of the unit (read more about signage in #6 below).
Standard roll-up doors also require the pull and plaque, but a nylon rope can also be installed on the bottom bar which hangs 15” - 48” when the door is open. The ADA states that accessible doors must be tensioned at 5 pounds (Janus International has ADA-compliant steel doors that are perfect for this).
5. Handicapped Parking Spaces
Your parking lot is required to have handicapped parking spaces. As with units, the number required is contingent on the total number of parking spaces. So, for every 25 total spots (and up to 100), one accessible space is required. For example, a self storage facility with 75 parking spots would require three accessible spaces. Learn more about ADA-compliant parking on the government website here.
Interior ADA signage is required at every doorway in all U.S. public buildings by federal law as part of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (SAD). Per SAD §216, ADA compliant signs serve three primary purposes:
- To identify permanent interior office rooms and spaces (temporary signage does not need to be compliant).
- To provide direction to or information about permanent interior building spaces.
- To identify, direct to, or inform about accessible features via the International Symbol of Accessibility (person in a wheelchair).
SAD states that ADA signage must include raised letters (tactile lettering) and braille, and that signs are hung between 48 inches and 60 inches from the floor. Happily, most signs are typically hung about 54” above the floor (with their center 9” away from the door) which would make them ADA compliant.
An official ADA ruling on website accessibility for non-federal organizations or businesses had not been made. However, it is likely to happen in the future so why not get ahead of the curve? If you want to make your website accessible, we recommend consulting the Accessibility Resources for Developers and Authors, which was created to help Federal agencies implement the web accessibility standards.
Today, most website accessibility standards are moving toward WCAG 2.0 standards to best meet the needs of people with disabilities. Designing for all users is a best practice, especially if you plan to accept payments or rent units on your website. Check out this Quick Reference Guide on how to meet WCAG 2.0.
Self Storage Consulting for ADA Accessible Storage
New builds and modifications to existing properties should always be done with ADA guidelines for accessible storage in mind. After all, ignoring them could put you on the wrong side of a lawsuit. If you’re concerned about meeting compliance standards, it’s always helpful to speak with a self storage consultant. As a Storelocal member, you’ll have access to helpful consultants plus a network of other self storage owners who are always willing to chat about their experiences.