What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that was ratified in 1990, celebrated as "the world's first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities" . It is a statute that prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities by businesses or property owners across the United States, ensuring equal treatment and accommodations for everyone. This ensures that all spaces that are open to the public are equally accessible to those with or without disabilities. This act is enforced by many government agencies including the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education, and The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is enforced just as seriously. This act is meant to protect those with disabilities and limit their disadvantages in the public and private sectors, allowing those with disabilities to maintain their independence and enjoy the same privileges as everyone else.

Why Does This Matter to Property Managers?

Property managers are tasked with ensuring a positive, safe experience for all residents and dealing with any issues that may threaten that goal. This makes property managers the first line of defense in ensuring properties remain in code with ADA requirements. A first time ADA violation can incur serious fines of up to $75,000, with the maximum civil penalty for a second violation practically doubles that number. Some jurisdictions require a property manager to be licensed for the profession, and not meeting ADA requirements with a second violation can lead to the loss of this licence. The ADA does not only apply to small business owners or private residential property managers either; both the Department of Justice and private organizations have brought lawsuits against large hotel chains that have demonstrated non-compliance. In suits brought by the DOJ,  courts may award monetary damages and civil penalties from $75,000-$150,000 for repeated noncompliance. 

What Rules Does the ADA Have for Private, Municipal, and Commercial Property Owners?

The maximum cross-slope of any sidewalk must be no greater than 2 percent. This is a costly issue for all property managers, because there is no plus tolerance of this maximum limit. A measured cross-slope of 2.05 percent usually results in contractors being forced to remove and replace sidewalk sections at the expense of the property, or to find another solution in order to meet ADA requirements. Sidewalks across private and commercial approaches also have to be the same thickness as the paved approach, meaning that grinding the concrete will not be a suitable solution. Sidewalk surfaces (and other concrete such as driveways or parking slabs) are subject to settling over time if the soil underneath the slab is improperly compacted. A vertical displacement of 1/4 in. or greater at any point on the walkway that could cause pedestrians to trip or prevent the wheels of a wheelchair or stroller from rolling smoothly is not allowed, and can lead to hefty fines for the property. This includes sidewalks, s teps, and ramps. Not only does settlement lead to trip hazards between slabs, it can also cause depressions that trap silt and water on the sidewalk and reduce the slip resistant nature of the surface, which is also required by the ADA.

What Should Property Managers Do When A Problem Exists?

Property managers have to do something if they want to avoid the potential for a lawsuit or fines. The three primary options for eliminating ADA-violating trip hazards are foam lifting, mudjacking, and concrete replacement. For a more in-depth look at how these services differ refer to our previous article on this topic, but for the purposes of this article a few key points are important to note. First, concrete replacement will cost the most, incur the most downtime, and possibly leave mismatched sections of concrete that are visually different from the existing concrete elsewhere. Mudjacking will likely cost a little bit less than foam lifting, but will have a higher rate of long-term failure and leave slightly larger holes in the lifted concrete. Polyurethane foam lifting will cost, on average, slightly more than mudjacking but will be less noticeable and significantly more reliable over time, eliminating the necessity for future repairs. Both mudjacking and polyurethane foam lifting will be reasonably quick processes compared to concrete replacement, with polyurethane foam injection taking less time per spot to cure allowing the overall project to be completed quicker and the troubled sections of concrete reopened. Concrete replacement will be about twice the cost of either foam lifting or mud jacking.

As discussed, there are a few options available for ensuring ADA compliance, with the best option being contingent on the particular problem at hand. The only certainty is that as a property manager an obligation exists to ensure tenants’ safety while they are on premises, and that is not something to be taken lightly.