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Accessible Buildings

Most new buildings and remodeled areas of existing buildings are required to be accessible. General guidelines as to what must be accessible are as follows:

  • Single-family and duplex or 2-family dwellings are generally not required to be accessible except when they are part of a condominium or planned use development.
  • Existing privately funded multi-family buildings can generally undergo remodeling or alterations with little or no access work required except for public or employee areas.
  • New dwelling units having all the living space on one floor and forming part of multi-family buildings comprised of four or more units, whether apartments, condominium or townhouses, must be accessible and must meet the following minimum requirements in accordance with the regulations of the Fair Housing Act which is part of the Florida Building Code, Chapter 11:
    • At least one accessible building entrance on an accessible route.
    • Accessible and usable public and common use areas.
    • All doors designed to allow passage by wheelchair users.
    • Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.
    • Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls must be accessible.
    • Bathroom walls must contain reinforcements in the walls to allow later installation of grab bars around toilets, tubs, shower stalls and seats.
    • Kitchens and bathrooms must be accessible and contain adequate maneuvering space

Handicapped Parking Spaces

At least, the number of spaces indicated in the table below must be provided in newly constructed buildings and facilities as well as in an existing building being remodeled.

Handicapped Parking Spaces Requirements

 Total Parking In Lot

Required Minimum Number of Accessible Spaces

1 to 25


26 to 50


51 to 75


76 to100


101 to 150


151 to 200


210 to 300


301 to 400


401 to 500


501 to 1000

2% of total

1001 and over

20 plus 1 for each 100 over 1000

Tenant Improvements

When remodeling a tenant space, tenants are not obligated to make access improvements outside the confines of their own space.

Each building permit issued carries its own access requirements depending upon the scope and value of the work. If you do a modest size-remodeling project now and provide some features (such as entrance and path-of-travel) and then do a much larger remodel on the same building at a later date, other features such as parking, elevators, etc., could be required.

Historic Buildings

Even historical buildings, when remodeled or altered, must have the same accessible features (entrance, path-of-travel, toilets, phones, drinking fountains, and parking) as other buildings.

The Florida Building Code does allow limited exceptions. However, they must be applied on a case-by-case, or item-by-item basis. Exceptions may be granted, in accordance with the procedures established in the code, in cases where compliance with the accessibility requirements would threaten or destroy the historic significance of the building.

To be considered as a qualified historical building, the building must be listed in a register, publication, or local inventory such as: 

  • Federal List of Historical Places;
  • Designated as historic under an appropriate State or Local law

Places Of Worship

Sanctuary buildings, the primary use for which is conducting worship services, are exempt. Other buildings, such as multi-use buildings, meeting halls, auditoriums, classrooms and other buildings not designed or intended primarily for worship services are subject to all the accessibility requirements of Chapter 11, Florida Building Code, even if within the same property.

Vertical Accessibility

The code requires that vertical accessibility be provided to all normally occupied levels. This may not necessarily entail the use of an elevator. Elevators are not required in facilities that are less than three stories in height or that have less than 3,000 square feet per story unless the building is a shopping center, a shopping mall, the professional office of a health care provider, or another type of facility as determined by the U.S. Attorney

However, vertical accessibility will still need to be provided by other means, such as ramps, lifts, etc., even in cases where an elevator as such is not required. Exemptions to the vertical accessibility requirement are:

  • Mechanical rooms, equipment catwalks, lubrication pits and other similar areas.
  • Storage and other spaces not designed for human occupancy.
  • Spaces not open to the public and that house no more than five persons.


If you are remodeling or altering an existing building, you may request an exception based on unreasonable hardship. In making an unreasonable hardship request, six key factors must be considered:

  1. Cost of providing access.
  2. Cost of all construction contemplated.
  3. Impact of access work on financial feasibility of the project.
  4. Nature of the accessibility, which would be gained or lost.
  5. Nature of the use of the facility under construction and its availability to persons with disabilities.
  6. Whether it is technically unfeasible due to existing structural or other conditions.

Even when hardships are granted for financial reasons, however, the building owner must spend up to 20% of the construction cost for accessible features. In choosing which accessible elements to provide, priority shall be given in the following order: 

  • An accessible entrance;
  • An accessible route to the altered area;
  • At least one accessible toilet room for each sex;
  • Accessible drinking fountains; and
  • Additional features such as parking, storage, and alarms.

Hardship Request Denials

If your hardship request is denied, an appeal may be made to the State of Florida Department of Community Affairs. Consideration may be given due to structural or spatial limitations of a building. Typical examples for such appeals are: basement parking without tall van clearance of 8’2” because of building height limitations; extremely small restaurants or commercial spaces where accessible toilets could not be reasonably constructed; and buildings where floors are raised above the sidewalk levels.

When making an appeal, it is important to consider “equivalent facilitation” or alternate methods to achieve accessibility. A few common alternatives are: alternate building entrances; street “blue zone” parking for tall vans; special access lifts; and signage to direct people with disabilities.

In regards to appeal forms, hearing dates and procedures, please contact the Florida Building Commission at 2555 Shumard Oak Boulevard, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2100.

Back to Top Page Last Edited: Wed Apr 9, 2014 1:46:24 PM

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