Congress recently overhauled the Americans with Disabilities Act for the first time in two decades, and commercial real estate owners and tenants would be prudent to verify compliance with the appropriate 1991 or 2010 Standards to avoid costly litigation and sanctions.
The ADA establishes requirements for businesses that provide goods or services to the public (“public accommodations”), which include stores, restaurants, bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreational facilities, private museums and schools, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, shopping malls, and other businesses. The ADA requires these businesses to modify their policies and procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities, and take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities. The ADA also requires businesses to remove architectural barriers in existing buildings and make sure that newly built or altered facilities are constructed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. “Grandfather provisions” often found in local building codes do not exempt businesses from their obligations under the ADA.
From September 15, 2010, to March 15, 2012, if the elements in a business serving the public do not comply with the requirements in the 1991 Standards, the elements must be modified, to the extent readily achievable, using either the 1991 Standards or the 2010 Standards. The public accommodation must use only one standard for removing barriers in the entire facility. For example, it cannot choose the 1991 Standards for accessible routes and the 2010 Standards for restrooms. As of March 15, 2012, elements in a facility that do not comply with the 1991 Standards must be modified using the 2010 Standards to the extent readily achievable.
Commercial property owners and tenants would be well advised to promptly complete any adaptations required to comply with the less demanding Standards of 1991.