November 25, 1997
The Honorable Robert F. Smith
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
843 East Main, Suite 400
Medford, Oregon 97504-7137
Dear Congressman Smith:
I am responding to your letter on behalf of your constituent, Ms. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Please excuse our delay in responding.
Ms. xxxxxxx, is the manager of a non-profit animal shelter operated by the Southern Oregon Humane Society (SOHS). According to her letter to you, the SOHS has purchased an existing office building that will be relocated to the SOHS property for use as an office building. Ms. xxxxxxx requested your assistance in obtaining a "formal" determination of the applicable requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) because she has been informed by a local building official that the SOHS will be required to remodel the existing restrooms to make them accessible "to comply with the ADA."
The Department of Justice is authorized by the ADA to provide technical assistance to assist covered entities to understand their ADA compliance obligations. Because this advice is based solely on the facts presented in the incoming letter, it does not constitute a formal legal opinion about SOHS rights or responsibilities under the ADA. However, this guidance should enable Ms. xxxxxxx to understand the generally applicable ADA requirements.
If the new building is used strictly as an administrative office building for SOHS staff, then it is a "commercial facility" that is subject only to the new construction and alterations requirements of title III of the ADA. However, if SOHS operates the facility as a place of public accommodation (as that term is defined in section 36.304 of the enclosed regulation), then SOHS will also have the obligation to remove architectural barriers in the existing facility, where such removal is readily achievable, i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.
Because the ADA defines the term "alteration" to include any change "that affects or could affect the usability of the building," the relocation of an existing building from one site to another is considered to be an alteration. Therefore, SOHS would be required to ensure that, to the maximum extent feasible, the altered portions of the facility, i.e., the external elements of the facility that are physically altered, must comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (appendix A to the enclosed regulation). As a result of the relocation, SOHS will be required to make the building entrance(s) accessible and to provide an accessible route to each accessible entrance.
In general, the ADA does not require major retrofitting in existing facilities. Therefore, in a commercial facility, the ADA would not require restrooms that were not otherwise being altered to be made accessible. In a public accommodation, barriers to access in existing restrooms must be removed if it is readily achievable to do so.
Ms. xxxxxxx should note, however, that this letter addresses only the requirements of Federal law. Some States have adopted accessibility requirements through State statutes or building codes that are more stringent than the Federal regulation. The ADA expressly permits local authorities to enforce State or local laws that provide accessibility that equals or exceeds the Federal rules. Therefore, the State of Oregon may require SOHS to comply with provisions that impose obligations in addition to those identified in this letter.
I have enclosed two copies of the regulation implementing title III of the ADA for your reference. I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to your constituent.
Isabelle Katz Pinzler
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division