The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities, such as conducting business at a retail store. Title III of the ADA imposed requirements on property owners and tenants to make their facilities accessible to those individuals with disabilities. Under Title III of the ADA, an owner or operator of a business (even in an older facility built prior to the ADA) which serves the public must remove physical “barriers” hindering disabled persons when such removal is “readily achievable” (meaning easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense).
There is no “grandfather clause” exempting older facilities. However, there are exceptions to ADA Title III – many private clubs and religious organizations may not be bound by Title III. With regard to historic properties (those properties that are listed or that are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, or properties designated as historic under State or local law), those facilities must still comply with the provisions of Title III of the ADA to the “maximum extent feasible” but if following the usual standards would “threaten to destroy the historic significance of a feature of the building” then alternative standards may be used.
Frequently, the first notice that a property or business owner receives that the facility may be in violation of the ADA comes in the form of a Complaint served following the filing of a lawsuit. Since the ADA specifically provides that the “prevailing party” is entitled to recover his or her attorney’s fees, costs and expenses, business operators and owners of commercial properties should be aware of the requirements for removal of barriers under Title III.