Accessibility Requirements: Preparation can protect your business from a lawsuit
If you have a business, you should be aware of the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your place of business must follow specific requirements to be considered accessible to people with disabilities, including wheelchair access. Some of these requirements may not be obvious, such as a specific counter height, or type of door handle, etc.
Business owners can be sued if they are not in compliance with the ADA. Individuals have been known to send threatening letters to multiple business owners as a way of getting them to pay cash settlements in order to avoid a lawsuit. This practice has become so common that the California legislature passed a law in 2008 called the Construction-Related Accessibility Standards Compliance Act (SB 1608) that is intended to allow a business time to correct deficiencies in accessibility before a lawsuit can be filed.
Briefly, the law:
Provides for the inspection of the site by a “Certified Access Specialist” (CASp). The CASp must complete a minimum of 45 hours of training relating to disability access and be licensed by the State of CA.
Requires that by January 1, 2014 all local agencies (cities, towns, counties) in CA must have a sufficient number of building inspectors who are CASps and who can conduct permitting and plan check services for accessibility compliance of new construction.
Requires that if there is any complaint or demand for money on an accessibility claim, the attorney making the claim must provide the building owner or tenant with a state-approved written advisory form that clearly states how to request a stay (postponement) of legal proceedings and how to request an early evaluation conference. This information may be obtained at www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-start.htm
Requires a court to grant the 90-day stay with respect to that claim and to schedule the early evaluation conference if the defendant has satisfied certain requirements relating to inspection of the site.
By being proactive, and obtaining a CASp inspection in advance of any legal action, a building owner triggers the protections available in this new law. These protections can include increased time to make corrections and reduced fines and statutory damages. If a building owner or tenant can prove that the building was new or legally improved after 2008 and met the requirements of the local building permit and inspection process at the time of construction, there are also protections built into the law.
The CASp inspection cost will depend on the size and complexity of the building. The CASp will provide an itemized list of anything not in compliance with construction-related accessibility standards (both federal and state). Some may be easily fixed (like replacing a doorknob with an accessible handle.) Others may be more complicated, and require extensive repairs.
We recommend that all commercial and public institutional building owners have the CASp inspection done at your earliest convenience. The CASp report is not required, however, to explain how to make the corrections, and in most cases, the inspectors do not have expertise in design and construction of the remedies. That is where The Kastrop Group, Inc. can help. We will provide construction documents and get estimates for the costs of the required remediation. We will also take the CASp report and prioritize the remedies. For existing buildings, not new construction, the ADA requires a certain percentage of the accessibility requirements be completed, and the corrections must be done in a specific order of importance. This assessment of percentage, and prioritization, can result in considerable cost savings.
To read the complete text of the law and get more details, here is the link: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=civ&group=00001-01000&file=55.51-55.545
The bottom line is that you can protect your business by having a Certified Access Specialist inspect your commercial or institutional property. If you know that work has been done on your building without proper building permits and inspections, this is an important step in making a good faith effort to become compliant. Don’t wait until you are the defendant in a lawsuit. After you have the CASp report, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects can help you with the appropriate drawings, contractors and permits.
— Lorianna Kastrop Vice President The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects