Back in 2012, a friend of mine bought an apartment complex with fever dreams of getting rich through rentals. I remember going out to the property once it was up and running so he could give me the tour. And during my visit, an interesting thing happened that taught him a valuable lesson he might not have learned otherwise. A young woman in a wheelchair came by to look an available unit, but she ended up having to look elsewhere because my friend had neglected to make the property accessible for tenants with disabilities.
She had been in a wheelchair ever since a serious car accident during her teenage years, and she hoping to move closer to work. But with only one ramp leading from the street to the sidewalk and no units prepared for the spatial requirements of maneuvering a wheelchair from room to room, my buddy lost a potential tenant.
That’s when he realized that he needed to make some changes.
Don’t Ignore Potential Tenants
I still never ceases to amaze me. Some apartment complexes have all the amenities you can imagine, but their owners never address the glaring issue that some renters need accommodations that others don’t. When building owners fail to supply accessible units, they inadvertently turn a cold shoulder to roughly 56.7 million Americans, or roughly 19 percent of this country’s population.
Now, I’m no Warren Buffett, but I can imagine he would tell you any business that ignores nearly 1 in 5 potential customers should seriously reconsider its tactics.
A Look at the Numbers
Just in case you need some convincing, it’s worth considering the numbers from Local Disability Data for Planners, a database completed in collaboration with Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute:
- 11.5% of the San Diego population has some form of disability
- 154,140 of those people are between the ages 21-64
- 40.9% of people with disabilities between ages 21-64 are employed
- 86.9% of the disabled population in San Diego are “non-movers;” preferring to live in the same location for more than one year
People with disabilities come in every shape, size, and walk of life. They’re not just elderly men and women who need a little help getting around. They can be young people who were injured in accidents, people who were born with disabilities, or wounded veterans returning from duty overseas. So keep that diversity in mind as you dive into your renovations.
It’s Time to Make Your Property Accessible
While updating your property is definitely an expense, it’s one that’s well worth it. An architect named Deborah Pierce, who specializes in designing living spaces for people of all ages and abilities, did some research and discovered that 8 out of 10 people over the age of 45 want to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible. As a property owner, this should be music to your ears. If you renovate your multifamily complex and make a few units available for tenants with disabilities, the investment will pay for itself in no time. Here are some upgrades to consider:
- Improve paths of travel: Make all hallways and other paths of travel wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. Aligning doors properly so tenants can avoid having to maneuver a complicated path through a room – around dividers or an island, for example – also helps.
- Make bathrooms safe and easy to reach: For two-story units, place the master bathroom on the first floor for easier access. Inside bathrooms, install grab bars (or “safety handles”) in any tubs and/or showers. You can also go one step further and install walk-in showers and tubs, to make getting in and out even easier and less dangerous.
- Replace doorknobs with handles: Lever handles – as opposed to the traditional grip-and-twist doorknob – are recommended by the Americans with Disabilities Act because they’re easier to operate.
- Lower appliances: Lower light switches, thermostats, and countertops so they are reachable for everyone.
And If That Doesn’t Convince You…
…just remember that you are bound by the Fair Housing Act to make all reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re required by law to undergo changes that would fundamentally alter or change your property or cause a financial burden, but your complex must meet certain criteria so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.
HOW REIG CAN HELP
We’ve been in this business for a long time and we’ve seen it all. Renovating a few units in your San Diego multifamily so they’re accessible for tenants with disabilities is something we can help you with. In fact, we’d love to be a part of it, because, at our core, we want nothing more than to create prosperous communities. And a prosperous community involves people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. So contact us today and let’s get this project started.