ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act

A disability is defined as condition the limits one or more life activities, generally affecting mobility, vision or hearing. Approximately twenty percent of our Nations population has disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the Federal Civil Rights Laws established to assist these individuals and prevent them from being discriminated against because of their disability. Discrimination can be in the form of intentional exclusion, physical barriers or failure to make reasonable modifications to existing facilities. There are many part of this law regarding employers, communication, transportation but this article will focus on the laws pertaining to ???public accommodations??? ??“ what affects the commercial buildings we sell or lease.

Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Any building that is open to the public. Plus it covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations and commercial facilities; all office and industrial buildings. Of note, both the landlord who owns the building and the tenant who owns or operates the place of public accommodation are subject to compliance.

What are we talking about doing? Basically, making buildings accessible to those in wheelchairs and installing handicapped bathrooms, creating accessible parking spaces and curb cuts, and other improvements to help those with disabilities. A discrimination suit could arise due to a failure to install an access ramp to a building presently only accessible by stairs. An example of discrimination, as illustrated on the ADA web site, is ???a failure to remove architectural barriers???¦that are structural in nature, in existing facilities …where such removal is readily achievable???.

Another common concern is do I have to put in an elevator? If the building is less than three stories or has less than 3,000 square feet per story an elevator is not required, unless the building is a shopping center, a shopping mall, or the professional office of a health care provider.

There is another common misconception that older buildings are exempt form ADA compliance. This is not true; there is no grandfathering regarding ADA laws.

This is federal law; enforced by the U. S. Department of Justice, there can be severe penalties for non-compliance or discrimination. On the positive side, efforts to comply can result in tax credits of up to $5,000 per year and tax deductions of up to $15,000 per year.

Agents need to be familiar with the ADA statutes to help educate and guide their clients and customers. There is a web site that is very helpful and includes some excellent video tutorials.

Ed Smith serves as Regional Director of Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT Long island Metro and Mid-Atlantic Region, is a Real Estate Broker, Commercial Continuing Education Instructor, Corporate Trainer, Speaker and Author; he may be contacted at or