The Fair Housing Design Manual – Construction

Quick Facts on the Fair Housing Amendments Act


The Fair Housing Design Manual was developed by HUD, to provide guidance on how to implement the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. 


The original Fair Housing Act was a discrimination law born out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and passed in 1968.  That law made discrimination on the basis ofrace, color, national origin, or religion illegal.  The Fair Housing Amendments Act expanded protected classes to include sex, familial status (ie, families with children couldn’t be discriminated against) and the disabled.  As part of the protections for the disabled, the law included design and construction requirements.


Unlike other protected classes, the disabled are “discriminated against” by buildings themselves.  The very design and construction of some buildings render them inaccessible.  Imagine if you or a loved one wanted to rent an apartment, and when you arrived on site, there were steps from the parking area up to the building entrance.  You can’t even get inside to file an application for the apartment.  For a person using a wheelchair, that’s paramount to a sign on the front of a building that reads “No Disabled Allowed.”  Hence the requirement in the Fair Housing Amendments Act to require newly constructed multifamily buildings be designed and constructed in such a way that they would be accessible to persons with disabilities.


The FHAA applies to all multifamily housing constructed after its’ implementation date of March 13, 1991.  Prior to this law, the other Federal laws on accessibility impacted federally financed properties, requiring first post offices and Federal offices, and then multifamily housing with Federal financing provide accessibility.  The FHAA applies to privately financed multifamily housing as well. 


The law applies all multifamily housing, whether for sale (condos) or rental (apartments).  For those properties, all public and common use areas must be accessible, and there must be an accessible route to all “covered units”.  The law defines “covered units” as ground floor units, or all units in an elevator building, in buildings with four or more units.  Think about that for a moment.  Four or more units per building means that rental single family housing, duplexes, and triplexes are not covered by the FHAA accessibility requirements.  Congress determined that it was impractical and costly to require accessibility in these types of residential construction.  However, when a building reaches the threshold of four units, Congress determined that requiring an accessible entrance to the building was practical


As reflected by the Fair Housing Design Manual, the law has seven specific requirements:

  1. Accessible Building Entrance on an Accessible Route
  2. Accessible and Usable Public and Common Areas
  3. Usable Doors
  4. Accessible Route Into and Through the Covered Unit
  5. Light Switches, Electrical Outlets, Thermostats, and Other Environmental Controls in Accessible Locations
  6. Reinforced Walls for Grab Bars
  7. Usable Kitchens and Bathrooms


Article by Larry Fleming; published originally on August 26, 2013