An Article By Alex Lee

Having done ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) related assessments of physical sites for over ten years, I am still surprised at the lack of attention, knowledge and understanding property stakeholders exhibit.  As Federal law, the ADA is accessible to everyone (https://www.ada.gov).  Yet for whatever reason, property stakeholders still seem to acquire their deepest understanding of the ADA in terms of hearsay and rumor through stories on the news or passed through their friend’s cousin’s friend. Perhaps this is, in part, due to a misunderstanding of what the ADA is about and who is responsible.  While the ADA includes building elements, the ADA is not building code.

Building code is about the health, fire, and safety of buildings which has to do with use and occupancy.  The ADA is about access to goods and services, which includes things like braille menus, video feeds, employment, furniture and hearing aids.  Thus while an architect or contractor may treat the ADA like building code, their expertise only applies during construction and design.   The ADA doesn’t end or begin with construction and design.  The ADA always applies as long as there are goods and services.  Even as tenants rearrange their layout and add more magazine racks or when contractors place temporary paths throughout a parking lot that has its sewer pipes exposed, property stakeholders are still liable if not more so. In short, as long as a business is operating, the ADA liability meter is on.  This lack of understanding has gotten property managers (and business owners) in trouble.

Yet even if property managers wanted to be educated where can they turn?  A quick look on Amazon shows that there are many books on the ADA but none for property managers (unless I write one).  Books on ADA are about the laws, for employers, attorneys, contractors, architects and aging homeowners.  There is nothing for businesses or property managers even if the business category includes all of the above (except aging homeowners).  After all, an architect’s office or an attorney’s office also has to be ADA compliant.

This course is to meant to change that.  Rather than waiting for a lawsuit to force you to hire an expert, you can start the process of becoming compliant now. You don’t need to know the ADA like an architect.  You aren’t living on site.  You don’t need the nitty-gritty.  What you need is a quick and dirty overview that gives you the conceptual framework so that you know what aspects of a property are problematic so that when the tenant improvements take place, or you help buy and sell or improve a building, you can spot the problem and help your clients and your tenants be protected.

In my opinion, the worst aspect of an ADA lawsuit isn’t damages or injunctive relief (fixing an incompliant item)—after all these aspects are part of the lawsuit.  The worst aspect of a lawsuit is that often, good money was previously paid to do things incorrectly.  Essentially, through pure ignorance, money is paid to make you liable. Stop being liable.  Start being responsible.  Get educated and proactive.  Learn the essentials.  Take my course on ADA compliance.

Alex Lee is a contributing instructor for www.propertymanagement.institute. To view his course click, Alex Lee