The California Legislature recently approved Senate Bill 1186, which is designed to curb the misuse and abuse of California’s ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) laws and protect business owners. The catalyst driving the Legislature’s action was what the Bill’s authors described as a serious problem in which claimants and attorneys file “shakedown lawsuits against businesses in an effort to gain an easy payday with no intention of improving access for the disabled community.” Landlords and property owners were often faced with exploitive demand letters for money and would choose to pay the claimant simply to avoid the time and expense of dealing with litigation.
The new law bans demands for money or cash settlements based on a claimed ADA violation. Strict standards were established to ensure that sufficient information is contained in demand letters and that the claim alleged is meritorious. In addition, changes were adopted to control the ADA litigation process, as owners and landlords can now seek an immediate stay of the lawsuit and an early evaluation of the plaintiff’s case. New minimum damage limitations were put in place, as well as much stronger process to protect against duplicative claims in which the plaintiff seeks multiple damage claims for a single ADA violation.
The Legislature also acted to expand the CASp (Certified Access Specialist) inspection program. A new $1 tax will be imposed on new business licenses and permits to fund this program. The new law also requires that any lease of commercial property executed on or after July 1, 2013, must state whether the premises have been inspected by a CASp and/or whether any violations were found.
This new law represents a positive change for landlords and property owners. The Legislature recognized that plaintiffs take advantage of the ADA laws and acted to install procedural safeguards to limit this manipulation. While the new law is not perfect and will not prevent all ADA claims, landlords and property owners should welcome these changes and learn how they can be used as protection against unjustified claimants.
Article contributed by Mark Ellinghouse and Dan Steinberg of Trainor Fairbrook Attorneys at Law. For a detailed summary of all the changes included in SB 1186, please click here.
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