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Properties must be inspected for ADA compliance

New law also helps protect against extortion attempts

Posted: July 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A new state law enacted last year that holds property owners accountable for Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, violations, but reduces the number of extortion-like claims against them, went into effect July 1.

As of Monday, any time a lease is executed for commercial property, the property owner must disclose whether the property has been inspected by a Certified Access Specialist — and whether the property was found to be in compliance with the ADA act.

It’s a typical trade-off in legislation, said attorney David Poole with the law firm of Poole & Shaffery. The new law, however, does give some protections to property owners and slows down some of the more aggressive law firms that specialize in ADA compliance cases, he said.

“It is going to give protection from some of those lawsuits that try to extort money from property owners and run up attorney fees,” Poole said.

In exchange, if landlords hire certified compliance specialists and disclose detailed results at time they lease space, property owners will have more time to fix any issues within a certain time frame and penalties can be reduced if a complaint is filed, he said.

But, the law is trying to ensure that property owners don’t just ignore ADA-related issues, Poole said.

The new law, however, does stop activity that Poole says his law firm sees a lot by less scrupulous firms who basically threaten a property owner or business to pay a sum money to make the complaint go away, and avoid court.

Demand for money letters often even precedes the filing of any court actions, he said.

“Business owners have gotten letters from attorneys demanding payment — a certain amount of money — before a court of law even reviews the complaint,” he said.

But, those extortion-like attempts not only hurt the property owner or business, they also often do very little to fix the problem, Poole said.

More reputable firms that deal with ADA issues will typically file lawsuits first and then work with settlement supervisors and court-ordered consent decrees, he said.

Under the new law, any business where construction or improvements were completed after Jan. 1, 2008, and that has received a Certified Access Specialist inspection, will have 60 days to fix an ADA violation.

If the violation is corrected, damages can be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000.

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees that have not been inspected by a certified compliance specialist have only 30 days to fix the problem. If they do so, damages can be reduced from $4,000 to $2,000.

Lawsuits to address ADA compliance issues can still be filed, but “demand for money” letters are prohibited.”

Some of the more common issues property owners and businesses are cited for involve accessible parking, and easy travel paths from public sidewalks to the door, signage and restroom accessibility, said Karen Haney, principal of Compliance Design Consultants in Newport Beach.

“We see issues in the older buildings as well as new construction,” Haney said. “With newer construction, sometimes cities don’t pick up on the violations or the property isn’t designed properly.”

Haney advises landlords and business owners to get an inspection by a Certified Access Specialist to identify any issues that may exist with a property, and then to remove those barriers to make the property accessible to individuals with disabilities.

“If a landlord or business receives notice of a violation, the first thing they should do is to get in compliance,” Poole said.

If they don’t, they are even more vulnerable to other people coming along and filing actions against them, he said.




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