New Building Codes Bring Changes to Accessibility Standards in New Jersey: What You Need to Know to Prepare


As of September 6, 2022, New Jersey adopted the 2021 version of the International Code Council (ICC) for Buildings, along with updated versions of the National Electric Code, the National Standard Plumbing Code, and other related standards. 

What does the changeover to the 2021 version mean for professionals in architecture, design, construction, and engineering?

There is a Six-Month Grace Period

First, you should know that New Jersey allows for a 6-month grace period before new codes become mandatory.  New Jersey adopted the 2021 ICC codes as of September 2, 2022.  That means permit applications (including all prior approvals) submitted by March 6, 2023, may be reviewed under the previous version of the code, at the option of the design professional.  However, you should start planning on the transition now. 

Changes to Accessibility Standards

One of the biggest changes to the ICC codes under the 2021 standards has to do with the Barrier Free Subcode (N.J.A.C.  5:23-7.1),  which regulates access to buildings for people with disabilities.  Currently, New Jersey regulations references the 2017 ICC codes.  With the changeover to the 2021 version, there will be two major changes. 

First, there will be a larger turning radius required for wheelchairs, an increase from 60 inches to 67 inches. 

Secondly, there will be an increase in areas where wheelchairs can be parked, such as wheelchair accessible toilet stalls. Currently, this will apply to new construction. 

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-12.4 declares it to be unlawful discrimination "to design and construct" a non-exempt building that does not comply with New Jersey's Barrier Free Subcode.

Potential Liability

It is imperative to stay informed of code changes and regulations. Additionally, complications can arise when a project was started under the old code, and later is completed with a new code.  As we are entering a transition period, this is something to be wary of. Organizations will sue developers and construction businesses. For example, in the case  Alliance for Disabled In Action, Inc. v. Renaissance Enterprises, Inc., 371 N.J. Super. 409 (2004), the Court held that for lawsuits filed pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-12.4, alleging discrimination in terms of accessibility for the handicapped, the appropriate date to start the period of limitations is the date construction was completed on the units. That is, the date upon which a certificate of occupancy was issued. 

Civil Rights and Construction Law

The new changes to accessibility standards under the 2021 ICC codes are important.  In New Jersey, there is a judicially created doctrine known as the “continuing violation theory.” This theory has developed as an equitable exception to a statute of limitations to bring a case against developers. Under the theory, in order to establish a continuing violation based on a series of discriminatory acts, a plaintiff must show that (1) at least one allegedly discriminatory act occurred within the filing period, and (2) the discrimination is more than the occurrence of isolated or sporadic acts of intentional discrimination and is instead a continuing pattern of discrimination. 

You can find the New Jersey Building Codes here.

You can find the New Jersey Rehab Subcode here.       

Keep in mind that localities can adopt their own property maintenance codes and zoning codes.

NOTE: New Jersey adopts codes by regulation under the State’ Uniform Construction Code (NJUCC).  Per the  ICC  website, the codes are administered by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Division of Codes & Standards. They are uniform statewide, and local jurisdictions are not permitted to amend.

If you have any questions about the ICC building codes or need legal assistance with your construction matter, contact Georgia D. Reid and Lawrence P. Powers or call us at 732-545-4717. You can also check out additional resources on our Construction Law team page here: