Accessible Short-Term Rental Q&A
Quick answers to some of the most common questions we get asked.
What does it mean to be ADA compliant?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, prohibits disability-based discrimination in all areas of public life. Enacted to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as those in the general population without disabilities, it protects people with disabilities from discrimination in areas such as public accommodations, transportation, mobility inclusion, government programs, and services. It also ensures that people with disabilities have equal opportunities to engage in employment, in commerce, and participate fully in the community.
Although there are some exceptions, almost every business that operates for the public good, and all state and local government agencies need to be ADA compliant. To be complaint with the ADA, a business needs to ensure access to the general public in its services. For a short-term rental, this might entail modifications being made to the property, polices, practices and procedures.
Can a vacation rental deny a Service Dog?
Many people with disabilities use service animals to assist them in everyday life tasks such as mobility and stability in walking, picking up out-of-reach items, alerting their owners of dangers or alarms, or preventing a person with autism from wandering away.
A service animal is not a pet; it is a working animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability when assistance is needed. Good examples include a seeing eye dog for a person who is blind, a dog trained to alert its owner with diabetes that her blood sugar is low, a dog trained to remind a person with depression to take his medication, a dog that is trained to comfort its owner who has anxiety attacks, or a dog trained to detect a pending seizure for its owner with epilepsy.
Such working animals provide a service necessary for your guests’ daily living. As a lodging provider, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that you accommodate guests with disabilities with what’s called “reasonable accommodations” or “reasonable modifications”. So, while you may have a policy which does not allow pets, providing accommodation for a service animal is something you need to do unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of your rental or pose a safety threat.
How much money should I budget to make accessible accommodations?
Your short-term rental ideally should be an environment which meets the needs of everyone who wishes to use it, so great consideration should be made to serving the needs of your guests, some of which are likely to have significant health, cognitive, or mobility issues. If the environment is accessible, it’s more likely to be used and enjoyed by a wide variety of renters.
If you are planning on modifying or renovating your short-term rental property, you’d do well to research and incorporate universal design standards. In fact, you should seek contractors who specifically have experience in universal design.
Accessibility is key to reaching your greatest potential pool of renters. Designing your property and its amenities to be accessible to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability can drastically increase its appeal to renters and their overall enjoyment of your property leading to increased room nights and profits for you. Universal Design does just that.
In regard to costs, the budgetary difference between accessible and non-accessible is typically negligible. For instance, the costs of framing for a 36” doorway as opposed to a 32” doorway is maybe only $20 difference, and the price of a 36” door is only a few dollars more than a 32” door. The same goes for door levers versus doorknobs, keyless versus keyed locks, luxury vinyl versus carpet, roll under sink versus a cabinet sink, front control stove/oven versus side control, etc. There are many accessibility modifications you can make that will cost you little more than a few dollars.
How much time should I invest to make accommodations?
Your greatest investment will be in the time you spend educating yourself about accessibility and accommodations for our short-term rental. Once you have a thorough understanding, the follow-though to make those modifications becomes simple. And you should also note that you don’t have to do everything all at the same time. You can plan your renovations to be completed at a convenient time and as your budget allows.
Do I have to accommodate people with disabilities?
In regard to short-term rentals, part of the ADA, Title III, covers public accommodations including places of lodging requiring appropriate changes in policies, practices and procedures to accommodate people with disabilities unless doing so would radically change how a business operates.
The ADA requires all hotels and motels in the United States to be accessible to people with disabilities. However, Title III of the ADA specifically applies only to places with more than five rooms to rent and are not occupied by the homeowner as a place of residence. Therefore, many short-term rental owners are not legally bound by the ADA. Nonetheless, providing your services in a way that gives people who have disabilities full and equal opportunity to enjoy the services you provide just makes good business sense.
Where do I go to learn about what standards I should consider in making our short-term rental accessible??
There are multiple published sources on the web which discuss regulations and accessibility standards. One easy source is “ADA Standards for Accessible Design” published by the U.S. Department of Justice. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written as accessibility guidance, it was written in a way to stipulate minimal requirements for accommodation.
We at Becoming rentABLE advocate going beyond minimum standards. We advocate universal design best practices in terms of accommodations, usability, convenience, and accessibility. As an example, while the ADA requires an accessible shower to be at least 36” X 36”, we advocate 60” X 60” as that is the amount of space we know to be necessary in which a person using a roll-in shower chair could maneuver freely. Another example is that the ADA requires entrance doorways to be at least 32” wide; however, we advocate a 36” wide entrance door. For more on universal design, you can find a nice guide published by the West Virginia Housing Development Fund here:
I have made improvements but aren’t getting renters with disabilities, why?
First, well done in making improvements as they are good for everyone, not just those who have disabilities. Secondly, let us point out that not all disabilities are apparent, your improvements may have been enjoyed by renters you did not know had a disability. But more to the point – if you want to attract more patrons who have disabilities, make your accommodations and property access known on the booking platforms you use. This starts with good photography showing accessibility features from driveway to patio and all points in between. You need to also highlight those features in your property descriptions.
Next, be sure that links to your property are showing up on websites that cater specifically to the disability community such as ours at Becomingrentable.com. Further, you should consider having Becoming rentABLE assess your property to certify that it is accessible. Consumers will be seeking out properties with such certification.
Does Airbnb/VRBO have to be ADA Compliant?
Business websites such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com need to be ADA compliant. That means the text, images, navigation, and any tools on the site need to be accessible to those with disabilities. However, property listings on such websites do not necessarily need to be ADA compliant in order to be listed. If the property owner’s business is subject to Title III of the ADA, then properties being listed under that business would need to be ADA complaint unless doing so would radically change how a business operates.