A single round doorknob in a leasing office or first-floor commercial establishment could be enough to get a landlord sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thankfully, a new state law provides a mechanism to reduce the risk of such ADA lawsuits.
Landlords with ground-floor businesses or leasing offices open to the public are vulnerable to lawsuits under the federal ADA and state laws such as the Unruh Civil Rights Act. This is partly because many landlords do not even realize their premises are not accessible to people with disabilities and hence have not fixed them. Senate Bill 1608, authored by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), aims to improve the situation. Under the legislation, a state-approved inspector known as a "CASp", or Certified Access Specialist, vets a public area for any failures to comply with disabled access laws. The next step is to correct any problems, get the CASp to certify the facility and then post a sign saying that the venue meets the
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standards for disabled access. The hope is to lessen the possibility of a lawsuit. If the landlord should be sued anyway, he or she can get the proceedings put on hold and have an early conference with the judge and the accuser, thanks to having had a CASp inspection.
The entire process is voluntary and inspection costs will generally run somewhere between $800 and $1,800 for a small business, depending on the size of the facility. If something needs fixing, it could be as simple as moving a table. If corrective work is needed, the entire process-inspection, permit and work - might range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a small business, depending on the situation. That may seem like a lot, but not when weighed against the risk of a lawsuit which can cost an unlucky landlord hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Tax credits are also available to offset the cost of an inspection and construction. Limits and some conditions apply. Call for more details.