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Understanding the ADA - part 1


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law from 1990 in part works to ensure access to offices, stores, restaurants and other businesses by all people including those with disabilities and makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities.

California’s Title 24 of the Building Standards Code outlines regulations more stringent than the federal ADA guidelines and were actually in place before the federal ADA guidelines.

Property and business owners will find ADA requirements to be complicated and overwhelming. Many find when they finally have a grasp of the regulations they frequently are updated.

Commercial property owners and business in Napa have been a target in the past for lawsuits of alleged violations of the ADA. Several property owners and businesses who were targets for “drive-by lawsuits” not only paid thousands-of-dollars in legal fees but were required to remove specific barriers to access.

Commercial property and business owners realize the importance of creating public space that ensures equal access to all and in most cases are willing to remove barriers upon discovery. Unfortunately, a lawsuit ensues before giving the property or business owner a chance to correct the violation.

The ADA requires equal access and services to disabled individuals, in essence, the removal of any architectural and communication barriers in existing facilities where such removal is readily achievable and can be carried out without much difficulty or expense.

Many older properties have compliance issues with a wide array of complexity and costs. Assessing a property is best accomplished by securing the services of a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to provide an access compliance evaluation.

Some attorneys have spotters looking for violations which are readily apparent as well as situations that may otherwise appear to be compliant. For example, measuring the height of signs, grade of slopes and pressure on door closures.

Instead of putting time, money and energy into fixing accessibly problems as they learn about them, many property and business owners have to first spend time, energy and money defending themselves against these lawsuits.

The best way to get accessibility issues fixed as quickly as possible is to allow time for property and business owners make the changes and only file a lawsuit if they fail to act.

This year, new legislation was approved in the House, but stalled in the Senate and is likely to fail through Congress. The bill would provide a solution known as the ADA Education, and Reform Act (H.R. 620) which adds a “notice-and-cure” provision to the ADA. If enacted as law, H.R. 620 would require plaintiffs give property and business owners notice of any alleged violations before filing a lawsuit. The development of an education system between federal, state and local jurisdictions for the property and business owner will further help the process.

In parts two and three we will look at the access compliance evaluation provided by a CASp, how the ADA affects a lease and answer some of your questions.

Burt M. Polson, CCIM, is an active commercial real estate broker. Reach him at 707-254-8000, or burt@acresinfo.com. Sign up for his email newsletter at BurtPolson.com.

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