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25 Years of ADA: How Well Do We Know Our Accessibility Obligations?

Christy Kim reviews some common questions surrounding the law.

On Sunday, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated a milestone anniversary, having been signed into law 25 years earlier by President George H.W. Bush to prohibit discrimination based on disability.

Today, the landmark law continues to be the principal regulation governing accessibility to real estate. Although there are additional rules relating to accessibility, including the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), lesser known guidelines such as the Architectural Barriers Act, and local regulations like the California Title 24 and Texas Accessibility Standards, ADA is by far the most wide-ranging of all. Yet, 25 years after its adoption, questions surrounding its applicability and obligations remain. Let’s take a closer look at this landmark a civil rights legislation intended to improve access to “public accommodations” and “commercial facilities”, and your options for ensuring compliance.

ADA's Compliance on Commercial Real Estate

Though residential properties are exempt from ADA requirements, the leasing office and any other facilities used by the public at multifamily properties do not benefit from the exemption. The most recent enforceable standards for compliance are the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards), which set minimum requirements for newly-designed or altered facilities.

As defined by the Act, ADA extends to virtually all commercial and public real estate. If you own or lease offices, schools, retail malls, hotels, etc. you may be subject to a lawsuit to correct deficiencies at any time (for more on that, see here). So, with that said, how can you make sure your property is in compliance with the applicable accessibility laws?

Assessing Compliance with Accessibility Reviews

An Accessibility Review is an evaluation of a property’s compliance with applicable federal, state, and local accessibility regulations. There is no nationally recognized standard for accessibility review, though significant guidance is available. Property Condition Assessments (PCAs) completed in connection with acquisition or financing of real estate frequently provide some level of screening for ADA compliance. The ASTM standard governing PCAs describes three tiers of assessment:

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