Your self-storage facility must adhere to a number of state and federal laws, but two that are extremely important are related to access, physical and digital. Find out what they are, the requirements for each, and how to ensure your business is compliant.

Scott Zucker, Partner

March 23, 2024

5 Min Read

Self-storage operations aren’t immune from the expectation that any customer who seeks to use the service should be able to do so, regardless of any physical conditions that limit their personal abilities. In fact, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, made it a requirement. Title III of the act focuses on “public accommodations” and states that properties that are open to the public—restaurants, hotels, schools, doctor’s offices and even self-storage facilities—must not permit exclusion or unequal treatment to those with physical incapacities.

Initially, the law focused on enhancing architectural standards for buildings. However, the ADA was revised in 2010 to incorporate new standards, including specific measures for self-storage facilities. They address not only access to the office, retail area and bathrooms but storage units themselves.

The ADA’s “scoping requirements” dictate how many units at a self-storage facility must be designated as accessible. The rule is 5% if the facility has fewer than 200 units, and 10 units plus 2% if the facility has more than 200. There’s also a stipulation that these units must be dispersed among the various “classes” of spaces provided, for example, drive-up vs. climate-controlled.

When the law was updated, self-storage operators had two years to bring their properties compliant. Since 2012, all new construction and most renovations or conversions have also been required to meet the new standards. The ADA demands that all businesses meet the requirements if it’s “readily achievable” to do so. This means “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense,” a definition based on a company’s size and resources. Businesses with more money are expected to comply, whereas those with less may be granted certain exceptions. This is especially true for older properties.

Complying With ADA

Though self-storage operators are within their rights to contend that the ADA mandates aren’t “readily achievable,” there are always interim solutions you can use to address accessibility concerns, such as call boxes or signage offering assistance for disabled customers. To avoid possible litigation for ADA violation, make sure you’ve answered the following questions. The text in italics is lifted from the Act.

  • Has your facility designated which units are accessible? Are they marked?

  • Does your roll-up door meet the ADA standard for opening and closing? (The maximum force for pushing or pulling open a door shall be 5 pounds.)

  • Does the rain lip prevent access to the space? Is a ramp needed? (Thresholds at doorways shall not exceed three-fourths (19 millimeter) in height for exterior sliding doors or half an inch (13 millimeter) for other types. Raised thresholds and floor level changes at accessible doorways shall be beveled with a slope no greater than 1:12.)

  • Does the roll-up door have a handle that’ll allow it to be opened and closed per ADA standards? (Handles, pulls, latches, locks and other operating devices on accessible doors shall have a shape that is easy to grasp with one hand and doesn’t require tight grasping, tight pinching or twisting of the wrist to operate. Lever-operated mechanisms, push-type mechanisms and u-shaped handles are acceptable designs.)

Web Accessibility

Physical site accessibility isn’t the only concern for self-storage operators. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued “Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA,” which is focused on allowing visually impaired users to use a company’s website. Included in the directive is an explanation of why this type of accessibility matters:

Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. An inaccessible website can exclude people just as much as steps at an entrance to a physical location. Ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority for the Department of Justice. In recent years, a multitude of services have moved online, and people rely on websites like never before for all aspects of daily living. For example, accessing voting information, finding up-to-date health and safety resources, and looking up mass transit schedules and fare information increasingly depend on having access to websites.

Though the DOJ doesn’t provide specific regulations to follow, it has outlined principles such as “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG) and “Section 508 Standards,” which are used by the federal government for its  own websites. There have been numerous lawsuits over the past few years regarding whether physical businesses like self-storage facilities are subject to these standards, but the courts are split on the matter.

Until this question can be resolved, you should anticipate that your self-storage business will be included within the umbrella of companies that are required to comply with WCAG, especially with customers who are visually impaired and seek to use their website to rent a unit or pay their bill. Certainly, as storage operations evolve into a more unattended model that leverages the use of mobile applications and other virtual-management tools to facilitate rentals, payments and facility access, it’s unlikely that you’ll be excluded from scrutiny.

The good news is there are industry vendors who can assist with website compliance, making your online content accessible for people with disabilities. Solutions include an artificial-intelligence-powered widget that audits websites for ADA violations.

It’s important for self-storage operators to understand these physical and digital accessibility guidelines and act accordingly. Stay vigilant to recognize your ongoing legal requirements and any regulations that may impact your business on a federal and local level.

Scott I. Zucker is a founding partner in the Atlanta law firm of Weissmann Zucker Euster + Katz P.C. Practicing law since 1987, he represents self-storage owners and managers on legal matters including property development, facility construction, lease preparation, employment policies and tenant-claims defense. To reach him, call 404.364.4626 or email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Scott Zucker

Partner, Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnik & Garber P.C.

Zucker is a partner in the law firm Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnik & Garber P.C. in Atlanta, which specializes in business litigation with an emphasis on real estate, landlord-tenant and construction law. He’s a frequent speaker at self-storage industry events, author of “Legal Topics in Self Storage: A Sourcebook for Owners and Managers,” and a partner in the Self Storage Legal Network, a subscription-based legal service for storage owners and managers. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.wzlegal.com.

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