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What is the Architectural Access Board and What Do I Do with its Subpoena?

By: Scott M. Zanolli

A little known but nonetheless powerful division of the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety is the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (“AAB”) whose mission it is to enforce regulations designed to make public buildings accessible to, functional for, and safe for use by persons with disabilities.

The regulations, codified in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations as 521 CMR 1.0, were first enacted in 1975 and have been updated continuously ever since.  They constitute comprehensive guidance to property owners, contractors and municipal building inspectors regarding acceptable design and construction methods necessary to provide persons with disabilities full, free and safe use of all public buildings and facilities.  The regulations are recognized as a “specialized code” and are incorporated into the state building code.  They are enforceable by both local building inspectors as well as the AAB.

The AAB’s enabling legislation provides that there shall be no “construction, reconstruction, alteration or remodeling” of any public building except in conformity with its regulations, and the nine-member board meets regularly to hear complaints regarding alleged violations of the regulations, as well as requests for variances.

The procedure for complaints is governed by Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 30A, the Administrative Procedures Act.  The AAB has subpoena power and is authorized to issue orders to compel compliance with its regulations, after having given alleged violators notice and an opportunity to be heard.  Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 22, § 13A further authorizes the AAB to levy sanctions of up to $1,000.00 per day for continued, willful noncompliance with the board’s orders.

The AAB is also empowered to entertain petitions for variance, and it will grant waivers from strict compliance with the regulations when it would not be technologically unfeasible, or would result in unreasonable cost without a meaningful and commensurate benefit to handicapped individuals.

Our Land Use and Zoning team can provide useful guidance for businesses and individuals seeking to comply with, or obtain waivers from, the regulations of the Architectural Access Board.

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