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Must Your Community Comply with ADA Pool Standards?

Dec 31,2012

If you strictly limit the use of your facilities to your residents and their guests and visitors, you will likely not be subject to the ADA Standards for your swimming pool or spa.

There has been much recent concern within the mobile home community industry as to whether mobile home communities must comply with new government standards requiring the retrofitting of swimming pools and spas to allow for access by persons with disabilities and impairments. The facts pertaining to your specific community will dictate whether compliance is required.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice revised the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design (“Standards”), which apply to state governments, local governments and places of public accommodation. The ADA is, essentially, a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on a disability. Certain recreational facilities, including spas and swimming pools, are among the types of facilities that may be required to be in compliance with the ADA Standards.

The new Standards impose significant new requirements on certain property owners to provide access to recreational facilities, including pools and spas. The types of access improvements may include pool and spa lifts, multiple means of entry, sloped entries to pools, transfer walls, transfer systems, pool/spa stairs and other systems. Needless to say, these types of improvements can be very expensive to implement. The Standards, as revised, initially required compliance by March 15, 2012. However, as of the writing of this article, the government has temporarily pushed back the compliance deadline to deal with confusion over the Standards, their applicability and concerns over their financial impact on small businesses.

Many mobile home communities have questioned whether they must comply with the Standards. In most cases, the recreational facilities in mobile home communities are not governed by the ADA if they are not open to the public and not deemed a public accommodation. However, if your recreational facilities are open to the public or deemed a place of public accommodation, then you would be required to comply with the Standards. A place of “public accommodation” is defined as a facility, operated by a private entity, whose operations affect commerce and fall within a number of specific categories, such as motels, hotels, restaurants, senior centers, recreational facilities, public and private schools, among others. Generally, the ADA regulations do not apply to private residential facilities unless the facilities are open to the general public.

If the pool or spa in your community is limited to use by your residents, their visitors and guests, it is likely your facilities will not be considered a public accommodation and therefore not subject to the ADA Standards. However, if your facilities are open to the public, even if benevolently, you could subject your community to compliance with the ADA Standards. Your communities are often an important part of the local community and many of you desire to be accommodating to the local citizens and organizations. However, your generosity and benevolence can sometimes come back to bite you. Some examples of conduct that could subject your facilities to compliance with the ADA Standards include allowing outside individuals or organizations (such as clubs, churches, etc.) to use your pool facilities, allowing groups to hold swimming competitions, opening your facilities to the public on special days or for special events, selling or granting recreation memberships to non-residents, and the like. Therefore, even well intended, generous gestures by you can lead to negative financial consequences. Unfortunately, when the government seeks to address one type of problem, they often unwittingly create other problems.

In general, if you strictly limit the use of your facilities to your residents and their guests and visitors, you will likely not be subject to the ADA Standards for your swimming pool or spa. If you deviate from that strict limitation, you could be exposing yourself to compliance with the ADA Standards, which may create significant expense in order for you to comply. Due to the evolving and uncertain nature of the Standards, as well as various exceptions that apply, you may want to seek specific legal advice relating to your community.

John Buric has a multifaceted practice of law that includes the mobile home/manufactured home and recreational vehicle community industries, landlord-tenant, contracts, construction, real estate, administrative proceedings (including the Arizona Department of Housing), general business law and civil litigation. Knowledge of these practice areas is particularly suitable for serving the mobile home/manufactured home and RV industries. Since the 1980s, John has represented and advised the owners, developers and managers of manufactured home communities and resorts, mobile home communities and recreational vehicle communities in hundreds of matters involving a broad range of state and federal laws, business issues, real estate matters, eminent domain, governmental disputes, contracts, administrative complaints and litigation.
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