If your business serves members of the public (for example, you own a retail store), or you have 15 or more employees, the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 1201 and following) makes both you and your landlord responsible for assuring that the premises are accessible to disabled persons.
You can work out the details in the "compliance with laws" clause of your lease that spells out landlord and tenant responsibilities for meeting legal requirements for commercial construction. These include complying with state and local building codes, as well as the federal ADA access standards.
Here are some specific suggestions for negotiating your responsibility for complying with the ADA:
- Ask the landlord to state (the legal term is "warrant") that the building complies with the ADA, based on a survey or audit performed by an engineer or architect.
- If the landlord will be making improvements, see if the landlord will agree to pay for fully complying with the ADA.
- Make sure that the costs of bringing common areas (such as elevators, stairways, and lobbies) into compliance aren’t passed along to you as part of the operating charges.
Even if the landlord agrees to handle the changes needed to make the building accessible to people with disabilities, you’re not fully off the hook. The ADA requires you to make the layout and interior design of your business space free of barriers that may limit access to disabled customers and employees. For example, you must make sure that aisles in your store or office are wide enough for someone using a wheelchair, walker, or electric scooter, and that counters are low enough for use by someone who’s disabled. Similarly, tables in eating areas need to be tall enough to accommodate someone using a wheelchair.
For an excellent introduction to the subject, get the ADA Guide for Small Businesses, available online from the U.S. Department of Justice, or by calling 800-514-0301. For more information see the ADA website.
This article was excerpted from Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business by Janet Portman.