Updated Valuation Threshold for ADA Improvements to Existing Buildings

If you or your client plan on making improvements to an existing building this year in California, we need to be aware of the required Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements that you’ll need to include. All businesses open to the public are subject to Title III of the ADA law requiring equal access and barrier removal on a constant basis. When alterations are made to an existing building in California, the work must follow the California Building Code (CBC). This code includes the guidelines established by the ADA, but also adds additional requirements for access. The elements within the scope of the alteration must completely meet the accessible requirements. One portion of the CBC addresses how to make existing buildings more accessible. Section 11B-202.4 of the CBC sets out the requirement to provide an accessible path of travel to area of the building alteration.

The required accessible path of travel that must be included in the alteration project includes; a primary entrance to the building or facility, the toilet and bathing facilities serving the area, drinking fountains serving the area, public telephones serving the area, and signage. If the building you are altering provides these items, making them accessible must be part of your project scope. As an example, if you own a restaurant that includes a dining room, restrooms, drinking fountains, and a parking lot, and plan to build interior walls to create a new private dining room, you’ll need to make additional ADA improvements beyond just the dining room. You’ll need to make sure the path to the primary entrance is accessible, improve the restrooms to be accessible, and make sure the drinking fountain is accessible. The CBC does not address improving the parking lot as part of the path of travel required for the alteration.

For many businesses, adding additional ADA improvements to small alteration projects might be financially unfeasible. For this reason, the CBC section sets limits on the cost required to make these additional ADA improvements. The CBC sets a construction cost valuation threshold to establish the limits of extra improvements. For 2015, the valuation threshold is $147,863. If the construction cost of your alteration project (without the additional ADA work) is less than this threshold, you will be required to improve the Path of Travel items to the greatest extend possible without exceeding 20% of your construction cost (excluding the extra ADA work). In our example, if the cost to alter your restaurant to add the private dining room is $100,000, you’ll need to improve the path of travel items as much as possible without spending more than $20,000. If you decided that you wanted to add a dance hall to your restaurant and now the construction cost is $250,000, you’ll need to add all the extra ADA improvements to your project. If renovating the restrooms and fixing the primary entrance will cost you an extra $80,000, you’ll be required to make all the improvements. If the business feels that the additional ADA work causes an unreasonable hardship, the local jurisdiction (City Building Department) can determine that in their opinion the extra work is unreasonable, the business will need to comply with equivalent facilitation or make the improvements to the greatest extent possible. Regardless, the business must make at least $50,000 (20% of $250,000) worth of additional ADA improvements.

The CBC includes a guideline for designers and owners to follow when deciding which additional ADA improvements to provide. Priority should be given to those ADA improvements that will provide the most access in the following order: 1) entrance, 2) path to the altered area, 3) one restroom for each sex, 4) telephones, 5) drinking fountains, and 6) any additional elements like parking, storage and alarms.

In our opinion, it benefits any business that is open to the public to be more accessible to those with disabilities. It provides a larger demographic of clients, and follows the intent of the ADA. We also understand the cost of construction and reality of budgets for small businesses. With that said, it is critical for Architects and Engineers serving busisness owners with design services, to know the requirements of the CBC in regards to alterations.