Cal Accessibility

Myth #5: I Am Doing a Small Tenant Improvement Project, but I Cannot Afford the Required Accessibility Improvements. Can I Claim a Hardship Exemption?

Under the CBC, alteration projects are subject to the following compliance provisions:

Area of alteration: The area of alteration must meet the accessibility provisions in accordance with current ADA and CBC requirements.

‘Path-of-travel’ Improvements: Outside the area of alteration, accessibility requirements must also be addressed. Both the CBC and the ADA require alteration projects to improve the access required to and within the facility. These improvements, called “path-of-travel” improvements, are improvements that are not part of the area of alteration but require improved access to the altered area from accessible parking stalls and other site arrival points and also address improved accessibility of restrooms, signs, and drinking fountains serving the area of alteration.

The path-of-travel obligation requires that these elements be brought up to current building code requirements as part of the alteration project. A permit will not be issued unless these elements are added to the project scope.

Unreasonable Hardship: The ADA limits the improvements to the path of travel to 20% of the total project cost. The CBC has a similar limitation, but the limitation does not apply when the cost of the total project exceeds a specified amount, which is adjusted annually; as of January 1, 2016, the amount is $150,244. 

Even so, the CBC allows for an “unreasonable hardship exception” in certain circumstances. The building department issuing the permit must make certain specific findings in order for the exception to apply. You would need to consult with the building official to determine if this hardship exemption would be applicable to your project. In assessing the accessibility requirements of an alteration, addition, change in use, or structural repair of a building or facility, you should consult with a competent licensed design professional to understand the scope of work and ensure you are meeting state and federal regulations with regard to accessibility. In addition, if your architect or contractor is not a CASp, you may want to hire a CASp separately to review any construction documents for compliance.