When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, it promised greater accessibility for more Americans to public spaces and amenities.
Among other provisions, the ADA requires property owners and businesses to ensure that facilities open to the public can accommodate people of diverse physical abilities. In the time since, various additional laws, regulations, and building codes have been passed to define for property owners exactly what is expected of them.
These regulations, which exist at every level of government from federal to state to municipal, detail everything from required widths of doors, to wheelchair ramps, the height of grab bars in restroom facilities, the placement and design of parking spaces, and much more.
They’ve raised awareness of the needs of people of diverse abilities and improved overall access to public life. But they have also caused unexpected problems.
The ADA and its accompanying regulations have had the unintended consequence of opening property owners to a plague of frivolous accessibility lawsuits. Accessibility regulations are not policed by government inspections but rather by lawsuits.
This has led to an entire industry based on filing frivolous accessibility lawsuits against property owners for minor or assumed accessibility violations. Property owners often settle, even when they could potentially win the suit, because it is less costly to simply pay the fees than to fight the suit.
Violations as simple as a grab bar that is unintentionally a few inches too high or low may trigger a lawsuit. Sometimes, businesses are targeted without cause at all. For instance, some law firms may blanket an entire area with threats of lawsuits, on the assumption that at least some of the properties will have at least some minor violations that can be exploited. Some property owners may settle even if they don’t have a violation, on the assumption that it would cost more to fight.
Historically, it has been difficult for property owners to proactively protect themselves from these accessibility lawsuits. The best tool for a long time has been to have regular accessibility reviews from a qualified firm like GLE. This can give you confidence that your property is indeed in compliance, and help you defend yourself if a lawsuit occurs despite this precaution.
However, even this measure doesn’t protect business owners fully. A frivolous accessibility lawsuit can be brought, whether there is cause or not, and defending against it may be more expensive than settling.
Florida, however, does now provide its citizens, property owners, and businesses with a path to proactive protection. A 2017 statute enables business and property owners to obtain a certificate of conformity that certifies that the property is in conformity with accessibility regulations.
To obtain the certificate, property owners must retain a qualified expert like GLE to conduct an inspection of their property. If the property is found in compliance, the expert may issue the certificate, including the date of inspection, proof of their own qualifications, and a statement confirming that the property is in conformity.
If the inspection turns up issues that are out of conformity with regulations, the property owner may then work with a qualified expert to develop a plan to bring the property into compliance. Depending on the nature of the needs, owners may have up to ten years to fulfill their compliance plan. This allows property owners to incorporate substantive compliance renovations into other planned renovations, and thus reduce their costs.
This new law helps property owners manage their risk and proactively avoid frivolous accessibility lawsuits. It also protects them from the cost of having to immediately come into compliance, in cases where doing so could be prohibitively expensive.
It’s a strong first step toward helping property owners both protect their assets and also provide welcoming, safe accommodations for people of diverse abilities.
We would love to be your qualified partner in obtaining certification for your properties. Contact us today to talk about your needs.