Who Is Responsible for ADA Compliance for Commercial Buildings?

Given that there are a number of myths and common misconceptions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s no surprise that many people ask about ADA compliance for commercial buildings.

When a new facility is in the process of being built, this issue doesn’t arise very often, as those involved in the building’s construction typically approach the project with the understanding that certain accessibility features must be included.

However, the same can’t be said for older buildings—specifically those that were erected prior to the passing of the ADA.

So, what happens when an existing building needs to be made compliant with the standards of the ADA? Who is in charge of making the necessary upgrades to ensure ADA compliance for commercial buildings?

When it comes to commercial properties, there are only 2 options: either compliance is the responsibility of the tenant, or it’s the responsibility of the landlord.

But before we dive into specific scenarios, it’s worth addressing the features needed for a facility to be considered ADA compliant, as well as the importance of adhering to ADA rules.

What Accessibility Features Are Required in Commercial Buildings?

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 as a means of prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those with impaired eyesight, mobility, and hearing.

Under Title III of the ADA, public accommodations and commercial facilities must meet the requirements outlined in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

The specifications for accessibility features in commercial buildings include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Doorways – Doorway openings should provide a clear width of between 32 inches (minimum) and 48 inches (maximum).
  • Ramps – Ramp runs must have a running slope no steeper than 1:12. However, in existing sites, slopes may be steeper than 1:12 if necessary due to space limitations.
  • Drinking fountains – When present in a commercial facility, drinking fountains must have spout outlets that are 36 inches (maximum) above the ground. The spout must be at least 15 inches from the vertical support and no more than 5 inches from the front edge of the unit.
  • Handrails – Handrails should be provided on both sides of stairs and ramps. They must be continuous within the full length of each stair flight or ramp run.
  • Bathrooms – Bathrooms must have accessible stalls and clear floor spaces for each fixture. Each space must be clear by at least 30 inches by 48 inches so that an individual in a wheelchair may be able to rotate with ease.
  • Signage – Signs should have a matte, non-glare finish, and there should be a contrast of roughly 70% between touchable lettering and background. For displays that identify a permanent space, Braille is also required.

The notes above merely touch on the features needed in commercial facilities, so it’s important to look over the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design in the guide’s entirety.

Moreover, an audit should be performed to determine what changes must be made to an existing building.

Why Is ADA Compliance for Commercial Buildings Important?

As with all public facilities, commercial properties must adhere to ADA regulations in order to avoid a number of damaging consequences…

  1. If those with disabilities are not provided the same access as everyone else, it could reflect poorly on an organization, leading to negative PR and loss of business.
  2. If noncompliance issues are discovered during an inspection, those responsible for the building could end up paying a fine as high as $75,000 for the first infraction.
  3. If individuals with disabilities struggle to navigate or otherwise gain access to a commercial facility, they could decide to take legal action, resulting in an organization having to settle an expensive lawsuit if violations aren’t addressed in a timely manner.

Due to the fact that ADA compliance for commercial buildings is so vital, it’s in one’s best interest to determine when compliance is the responsibility of the tenant and when it’s the responsibility of the owner/landlord.

Is the Landlord or Tenant Responsible for ADA Compliance?

Tenant Responsibility

The tenant may be solely responsible for ADA compliance for commercial buildings in some situations, while the tenant and property owner will share that responsibility in others.

A good rule of thumb is that any operational issues related to compliance within the tenant’s space are the tenant’s sole responsibility, while both the landlord and tenant will share responsibility for compliance with physical improvements within that space.

Keep in mind that even if the lease for the space includes an overview of who compliance is the responsibility of in certain situations, courts do not have any responsibility to enforce those lease terms.

ADA-compliant signage, then, would typically fall under the responsibility of the tenant, while changes such as ramps and elevators would be the shared responsibility of the tenant and the building owner within the tenant’s rented space.

Owner Responsibility

Building owners are responsible for providing access to the property for all people, as well as an accessible travel route for all people to all areas of the building governed by the ADA. Whenever improvements are made to a building, the business owner is expected to correct any areas of noncompliance, though any removal of barriers to accessibility that is easy to accomplish could be required during standard operations.

The owner bears sole responsibility for entry to the building, accessible parking areas, and parts of the building that are open to the public but not leased by tenants, such as hallways, mall areas, some lobbies, and common areas.

In some cases, if there is a dispute between the owner and the tenant over who compliance is the responsibility of with regard to certain upgrades, the final decision and the extent of the modifications lie with the Department of Justice.

Takeaway

Since ADA compliance for commercial buildings is key to avoiding lawsuits, fines, and other negative consequences, it’s important for individuals to address potential liability issues as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Though each situation varies in terms of when compliance is the responsibility of the tenant versus the landlord, the aforementioned information should shed a little more light on the subject.

For more information about tenant versus owner responsibility for ADA-compliant improvements (specifically ADA signage), contact our team at Erie Custom Signs.

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