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Everything Self-Storage Operators Need to Know About the Americans With Disabilities Act

By Jeffrey Greenberger Comments

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. At the time, no one in the self-storage industry thought the ADA applied much to their facilities, except under Title III of the Act, which deals with public accommodations. If you built a storage facility after 1990, it would need an office that was accessible to those with all disabilities. This includes wheelchair access.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice began floating around modifications to the ADA, which included new and specific design and building requirements. Again, no one was certain if these requirements applied to our industry because most of what constitutes a storage facility isn’t an area of “public accommodation.”

When the standards went out for public comment, without pressing too hard, storage-industry leaders began to inquire whether the Justice Department believed these design standards would apply to self-storage properties. If so, how many years back would the obligation go before a facility was “grandfathered” out of the requirement? It’s my understanding that an exact answer was never determined for various reasons.

For the purposes of this article, assume ADA requirements apply to your facility, especially if it was built or issued a Certificate of Occupancy, or you added new buildings, since March 15, 2012. These requirements deal with scoping and dispersion. Let’s take a look at what each means and how you can ensure your property is compliant.

Scoping and Dispersion

Scoping relates to the number of units you’re required to have that are accessible to customers with disabilities. If your property has 200 units or fewer, 5 percent of the units must comply. If the site has more than 200 units, the number jumps to 10 units plus 2 percent.

The dispersion requirement means you must have spread the required units among your various unit types and styles. If your property has all 10-by-10, non-temperature-controlled units, that’s easy. However, if you have 15 different unit sizes, some temperature-controlled and some not, then you’d have to do your best to spread the required number of units across these kinds.

That doesn’t mean you must make more units accessible than is required under scoping. You don’t have to build additional disability-accessible units to have one of every type and style. Even if you have many varieties, you still only have to hit the number required under scoping.


The problem is that making a unit accessible is trickier in self-storage than in other types of businesses. When we talk about accessibility, we’re not simply discussing the ability to lift a door and have the resistance meet the ADA requirements for pressure or weight. The entire path to the unit must be accessible. This includes the amount of slope permitted in the drive aisles. The requirement is 1 inch per foot of rise or fall. Many storage facilities have sloped drive aisles to move water away from the buildings, which may violate the ADA.

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