For offices undergoing construction, the general assumption is that all bathrooms, whether newly constructed or remodeled, public or common, be usable by people with disabilities.
Tenants who are renovating their space often believe that ONLY public use restrooms are required to be ADA accessible while Common use toilets do not. That assumption is incorrect. ADA rules stipulate each public and common use restrooms shall comply with ADA laws. Public use bathrooms are those that are made available for use by the general public and Common use restrooms are provided for two or more people including offices that do not see the general public.
Other restrooms such as for the sole use by an occupant of a private office shall be made “adaptable”. An adaptable restroom requires clear floor space and minimum door widths. Other items such as grab bars, accessible faucets and plumbing fixtures can be installed later when needed.
Existing bathrooms are not grandfathered by the ADA. Even if alterations are not made, an existing public use restroom must provide for accessible features when feasible.
A change to a building or facility that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility or portion thereof. Alterations include, but are not limited to, remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, resurfacing of circulation paths or vehicular ways, changes or rearrangement of the structural parts or elements, and changes or rearrangement in the plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions. Normal maintenance, painting or wallpaper, or changes to mechanical and electrical systems are not alterations unless they affect the usability of the building or facility.
In bathroom alterations, an altered fixture must be made accessible. For instance, if you are replacing a faucet, it must be replaced with an accessible faucet. And altering one item does not necessarily require compliance for existing items.
Even if there are no restroom alterations planned, renovations to the surrounding area served by the restroom may trigger ADA compliance. This is referred to as an alteration to an area containing a primary function. Offices and conference rooms are considered primary function areas. Therefore, if they are altered, the restrooms serving that altered area are required to be made accessible. Hallways, restrooms and break rooms would not be considered primary function areas.
Options for Existing Restrooms and exceptions for achieving compliance include:
- A single accessible unisex restroom can be provided if it is determined that compliance in the existing restrooms is technically infeasible. The unisex restroom must be provided on the same floor and in the same area as the existing inaccessible restrooms.
- In a multi-user restroom, smaller accessible toilet stalls may be allowed if it is technically infeasible to provide the standard accessible stall or if a reduction in fixtures (to provide a double-wide stall) is not permitted by the plumbing code.
It is also permitted to use a single unisex accessible restroom when compliance for the existing restrooms is technically infeasible, but it does not allow the use of the alternate accessible toilet stalls. Technically infeasible is defined as something that has little likelihood of being accomplished because existing structural conditions would require removing or altering a load-bearing member that is an essential part of the structural frame; or because other existing physical or site constraints prohibit modification or addition of elements, spaces, or features that are in full and strict compliance with the minimum requirements.
Where multiple single-user restrooms are clustered at a single location, at least 50 percent but not less than one room for each use at each cluster shall be accessible.
For more information see ADA Standards for Accessible Design