Condos and the ADA
Over 25 years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) transformed both the legal and physical landscape of this country. Making facilities and opportunities accessible and available to individuals with disabilities was no longer optional for many if not most businesses and commercial property owners. The ADA has no doubt improved the lives of millions of Americans, but the law’s complexities can often prove confusing to organizations who need to comply with its requirements. This includes Florida condominium and other community associations who may have concerns about their obligations under the ADA and whether they face liability for failing to make necessary improvements.
“Place of Public Accommodation”
Title III of the ADA obligates anyone who “owns, leases (or leases to), or operates” a “place of public accommodation” to ensure that the place or premises complies with ADA accessibility guidelines. You may think that since your community is composed of private residences, the ADA’s mandates would not apply. You would be right when it comes to the units or homes themselves; individual home or condo owners are under no obligation under the law to make their residences accessible to those with disabilities. But certain buildings or facilities in your community can constitute a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA.
For example, if your community operates a clubhouse or other facility that it rents out to members of the public for private events such as weddings, parties, meetings, or other events, it is a public accommodation. Not only does the building itself need to be accessible to individuals with disabilities, the areas around it such as parking lots, sidewalks, and entrances all need to comply with the detailed specifications contained in ADA guidelines. This includes making all necessary and reasonable modifications to your facilities, which is no small undertaking. Everything from the kind of hardware used for door handles to the spaces between tables to the width or height of doorframes have requirements that must be met to ensure compliance.
But the consequences of non-compliance are not small either. Tens of thousands of ADA lawsuits are filed every year. While many of these suits involve real grievances by individuals with disabilities who have suffered discrimination or been denied access to facilities, many of these lawsuits are filed by “serial plaintiffs,” individuals who had no intention of doing business with or whose access was not in fact impeded by the defendant businesses, and who file scores of lawsuits with the goal of making a quick buck through settlement. Regardless, these suits are expensive and can expose the association to significant liability and legal expenses.
If you have questions about the ADA or accessibility issues and how they may affect your Pensacola condominium or other common interest community, McDonald Fleming Moorhead can help. Our community association lawyers provide seasoned representation for all forms of common ownership property throughout northwest Florida. This includes condominium associations, cooperative associations, commercial condominium associations, mobile park associations, and homeowners’ association attorneys.