Complying With ADA Requirements for Public Accommodations

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December 6, 2016
Williams, Zinman & Parham P.C.
Attorney

 

 

 

 

            The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits discrimination against people on account of disability.  Title III governs places of “public accommodation” and affects certain areas of mobile home and RV parks.  In a nutshell, a “public accommodation” is any place to which the public is invited.  For a typical mobile home park, this would at least include the leasing office, the parking lot for the leasing office, and an accessible pathway connecting them.  These are “pubic use facilities.”  If a mobile home or RV park has short-term (i.e. daily or weekly) RV space rentals, the entire park could be considered a public accommodation, in which case the park would need to comply with the ADA. 

           

 Among other things, the ADA requires public accommodations to make new public use facilities fully accessible, to remove physical barriers for older ones (built before January 23, 1993) to the extent “readily achievable,” and to make any “alterations” to existing public use facilities accessible to the “maximum extent feasible.” 

            Many park operators mistakenly believe that none of the park is a public accommodation.  Many also incorrectly assume that they are “exempt” from the ADA’s requirement because their leasing office and parking lot facilities are very old.  As a result, they fail to make the leasing office and parking lot accessible, and make themselves vulnerable to ADA complaints or lawsuits.

            An existing public use facility that was built before January 23, 1993 must remove physical barriers to entering and using the facility, such that it can be navigated by a disabled person, when “readily achievable.”  Whether changes are “readily achievable” will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, in light of the resources available to a public accommodation.  Thus, a park owned by a large company with substantial resources will clearly be expected to have removed most physical barriers to entry into the leasing office and to use of the parking lot (and any other areas of the park to which the public is invited).  A small mom and pop mobile home park may be expected to at least have taken all of the relatively inexpensive steps to make the leasing office and parking lot (and any other areas of the park to which the public is invited) accessible.      

            Examples of “readily achievable” barrier removal items include (but are not limited to): installing ramps; making curb cuts at sidewalks and entrances; rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, etc. so that disabled persons can access the public area; widening doorways; and installing grab bars in toilet stalls if a public bathroom is offered.

            When an existing, older public accommodation decides to start working towards barrier removal, it should keep four priorities in mind.  Most importantly, the first priority should be to make changes to ensure that disabled persons will be able to get “in the front door.”  For example, a mobile home park would need to remove stairs that a person must navigate to enter the leasing office so that someone with a mobility impairment could access it.  The second priority should be to provide access to areas where goods and services are available.  The third priority should be to provide access to restroom facilities.  And, finally, the fourth priority is to take any “other measures” necessary to provide access to the public accommodations’ goods, services, and advantages. 

            Public accommodations should keep in mind that when working on barrier removal, they must comply with the alterations requirements of the ADA’s Accessibility Guidelines.  Those Guidelines set forth specific ways that curb cuts, parking areas, grab bars, etc. must be installed.  If it is not “readily achievable” to fully comply with the Guidelines, a public accommodation must take steps that are “readily achievable.”  For example, if a doorway cannot be widened quite enough to comply with the Guidelines, the public accommodation would still be required widen the doorway as much as possible. 

            If a public accommodation builds a new public use facility, that facility must be made readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.  The new pubic use facility must follow the ADA Accessibility Guidelines’ architectural standards.  Similarly, if a public accommodation makes “alterations” to its pubic use facilities, those alterations must be accessible to the “maximum extent feasible.”  For a mobile home park, if the park remodels its leasing office, the leasing office would need to comply with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines as much as possible.  If undertaking a remodeling project in any part of the mobile home park that is open to use by the general public, the park should consult with a contractor well-versed in ADA compliance. 

            Again, RV parks with short-term (daily and weekly) rentals are particularly affected by these laws.  Generally, such an RV park will probably be considered a public accommodation as a whole.  Therefore, RV parks with short-term rentals should consult with contractors well-versed in ADA compliance to determine what can be done to make the park ADA compliant.  “Readily achievable” steps to remove architectural barriers will need to be taken.  Many RV parks are aware that several groups have been filing lawsuits targeting RV parks that do not comply with the ADA.  Some of these lawsuits have focused on parking lots, but others have focused on the facilities as a whole—for example, whether the park has a pool lift.  Some of the groups filing such lawsuits have “testers” who will make a phone call to the park and ask whoever answers the phone questions about whether the facility has certain ADA accessible features.  It may be wise to simply invite those individuals to take a look at the park rather than answering any specific questions about accessible features.  It is unwise to say that you do not have a pool lift or that your bathrooms are not accessible. 

            A final note of importance for both mobile home and RV parks: the pool.  A pool may or may not be a public use facility depending upon who has access to and use of the pool.  In a mobile home park or an RV park only doing monthly and longer leases, if the pool is only open to park residents, their visitors and guests, it is probably not a public use facility.  If the park, however, holds regular parties or events at the pool to which the public is invited, it probably will be treated as a public use facility and the pool is required to have a permanent pool lift or pool lifts meeting accessibility criteria.  RV parks with daily and weekly rentals are required to have a pool lift.     

            To enforce the ADA, private parties may file lawsuits to obtain court orders to stop discrimination.  While monetary damages are not available in such lawsuits, reasonable attorneys’ fees may be awarded to the plaintiff if he or she prevails.  Additionally, individuals may file complaints with local enforcing agencies, like the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.  They will investigate complaints and, if they determine that a park violated the ADA, they are empowered to file suit.  In lawsuits brought by the AG’s Office, monetary damages and substantial civil penalties may be awarded to the prevailing party.