With nearly one in five Americans having a disability, what are you required by law to do in order to help serve guests with accessibility issues?

While it’s essential that owners and property managers look into how laws at all levels of government could apply to their vacation rental business, here’s an updated overview of the two largest acts of federal legislation that could apply: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

At first, the legislation surrounding the issue of accessibility may seem clear cut, but it is important to be aware of potential gray areas that are beginning to surface with the increase in short-term rentals. Here is what you need to know regarding the ADA and FHA’s application to your vacation rental.

Does the ADA or FHA apply to my short-term rental business?

In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life” - including public accommodations such as motels, hotels, resorts, and campgrounds. It works in tandem with the Fair Housing Act, which ensures everyone has the same rights when buying or renting a home in the US.

Chances are that your vacation rental is exempt from both the ADA and FHA. But the reality is that it can vary on a case-by-case basis. Here are some factors to consider.

The size of your business

Generally speaking, the FHA doesn’t apply to transient housing like short-term rentals. But length of stay isn’t the only consideration; other factors, such as the number of units and how the space is used, can also come into play. Check out this overview of the FHA from Nolo

If your rental property has five or fewer rooms available, and if you typically live there, ADA also likely doesn’t apply. However, it may be considered a “place of lodging”, which would legally require accessibility accommodations, if:

  1. You provide short-term rentals of “guest rooms for sleeping” for bookings of 30 days or less where the renter doesn’t have the right to go back to a specific room or unit after their stay ends
  2. Your business operations are similar to a hotel, motel, or inn.

That last point could be a big “if” for larger vacation rental operations if the conditions and amenities include:

  1. On- or off-site management and reservations service
  2. Rooms available on a walk-up or call-in basis
  3. Availability of housekeeping or linen service
  4. Acceptance of reservations for a guest room type without guaranteeing a particular unit or room until check-in and without a prior lease or security deposit.

Learn more about how ADA can impact public accommodations.

Spaces for common use

Even if your units don’t need to be ADA compliant, the larger property isn’t necessarily exempt. Common areas that are not for the exclusive use of your guests — such as a game rooms, public washrooms, or parking lots — may be considered publicly accessible. Altering these to meet ADA requirements could include ramps, widened doorways, and placement of amenities.

Your website

Until recently, there were plans to amend the ADA to include website accessibility — something that could impact your online presence. Those changes have since been put aside, but it could still be helpful to review accessibility guidelines as you build your vacation rental website. Here’s a great overview from Search Engine Journal.

Service animals and your pet policy

The requirements around service animals can be confusing and more than a little blurry. And the reality is that there is no clear-cut answer: Whether you’re required to allow service and assistance animals in your short-term rental can vary on a case-by-case basis — including, of course, whether your property is exempt from one or both acts. ADA applies only to service dogs, while FHA applies to a broader range of service and support animals.

Consider this example of the emerging gray area between accessibility legislation and the vacation rental industry. In a recent situation in Florida, a family with a service dog had their booking declined after an email exchange with the vacation rental owner. Now the family is suing both HomeAway and the owner for discrimination. One of the main questions? Whether the vacation rental should be classified as a house or temporary lodging.

Give guests the information they need to make a decision themselves

Whether legislation applies to your vacation rental or not, it’s a good time to consider what it means to have an accessible property. Perhaps most importantly, give potential guests the information they need to decide for themselves whether a vacation rental is a good fit for their needs. Don’t make the decision on their behalf.

Learn more about issues that could be a concern — such as stairs, narrow doorways, or lack of parking — and highlight them in your property description. Make use of tools that are built into the listing sites you use; Airbnb, for example, offers 21 accessibility filters.

Be sure to keep a close eye on industry news as laws and legal precedents in the near future can have an immediate effect on your vacation rental business.

If you have further questions about how legislative requirements may apply to your vacation rental, contact the ADA Information Line.

The information above is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you need legal advice, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area.