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ADA Compliance for Commercial Buildings: Who’s Responsible & More

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In some cases, ADA compliance for commercial buildings can be confusing. When a new facility is being built, this issue doesn’t arise very often. Those involved in the construction know to follow standards for accessibility. But the same can’t be said for older buildings built before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.

What happens when existing buildings need to be made compliant with ADA standards? Who’s responsible for ensuring ADA compliance for commercial buildings?

When it comes to commercial properties, there are only 2 options for ADA building compliance

  1. It’s the landlord’s responsibility. 
  2. It’s the tenant’s responsibility. 

As for which party is in charge of making the necessary changes, it depends. That’s why we’re going to look at specific scenarios for clarity. But first, let’s address the features needed for ADA compliance and the importance of adhering to ADA rules.    

What Features Are Required in Commercial Buildings?

Commercial buildings must introduce certain features and adjustments for compliance. These facilities fall under Title III of the ADA and have to meet the requirements in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what the ADA requires—whether you’re responsible or not. 

The ADA requirements for commercial buildings include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

The points above only touch on some of the features required. Achieving ADA compliance for commercial buildings is a lot more complex. It’s important to read the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design in their entirety. Moreover, you should perform an audit to determine what changes must be made to an existing building. 

Why Is ADA Compliance for Commercial Buildings Important?

The short answer is that ADA compliance is both a legal requirement and a good business practice. The ADA was signed into law in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Failing to comply can prevent certain people from accessing the building. Further, it can have serious consequences for the business. 

Here’s what can happen if a building isn’t ADA compliant:

  1. If people with disabilities aren’t provided the same access as everyone else, it could reflect poorly on the business. With negative PR comes the potential loss of customers. 
  2. If a building inspector discovers noncompliance issues, the landlord or tenant could be fined. The maximum penalty for a first offense is $75,000
  3. If individuals with disabilities struggle to navigate or gain access to a facility, they could decide to take legal action. The business may have to settle an expensive lawsuit if violations aren’t addressed promptly.  

As you can see, ADA compliance for commercial buildings and public accommodations is vital. It ensures you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities. Plus, it helps you avoid legal and financial issues. 

Who’s Responsible for ADA Compliance for Commercial Properties?

 A custom, ADA-compliant room sign with the tenant’s name and the number in braille.

As mentioned previously, the responsibility of ADA compliance for commercial buildings falls on either the tenant or the landlord. The tricky part is figuring out which party takes charge in specific situations. Below are the general rules for both sides. 

Tenant Responsibility

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

A good rule of thumb is that any operational issues related to compliance are the tenant’s responsibility. The landlord and tenant will share responsibility for making physical improvements. 

A lease for the space may include an overview of who’s responsible for compliance in certain situations. However, courts don’t have any responsibility to enforce those lease terms.

Here are a couple of examples:

Landlord Responsibility

Real estate owners are responsible for providing access to the property to everyone. They must also provide an accessible travel route for all people to all areas of the building. When a building is renovated, the owner is expected to correct any areas of noncompliance. However, the “readily achievable” removal of architectural barriers to accessibility could be required during standard operations.

The owner bears sole responsibility for the following: 

If there’s a dispute over who compliance is the responsibility of concerning certain upgrades, the final decision and the extent of the modifications lie with the Department of Justice.


ADA compliance for commercial buildings is key to avoiding lawsuits, fines, and other consequences. That’s why it’s important to address potential liability issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. And that means understanding who’s responsible.

Each situation varies in terms of when compliance is the responsibility of the tenant versus the landlord. Still, the information provided here should shed a little more light on the subject.  

If you need ADA-compliant signage to bring a building up to code, contact our team at Erie Custom Signs.

Filed Under: ADA Signage

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