Recently, California courts have been overwhelmed with lawsuits brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Unruh Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, many commercial leases are drafted without addressing the critical issue of how the parties will comply with the ADA or who will absorb the cost of an ADA lawsuit. It is up to Landlords and Tenants to secure competent real estate lawyers to assist them with these issues. Although there are bipartisan attempts in Sacramento to reduce rampant ADA lawsuits, the most recent proposed legislation, SB-1186, has been modified and does not appear to have sufficient substance to provide relief for small businesses in the near future.
Addressing ADA Issues in Commercial Leases. The ADA obligates anyone who "owns, leases (or leases to), or operates" a "place of public accommodation" to make sure that place or premises complies with ADA guidelines. The question then becomes, who will have the burden of paying for compliance? It is important to allocate the burden in the lease. If it is a "gross" lease, the landlord will probably be responsible for the structure and building, however, if there are issues that are solely within the tenant's control (such as placement of furniture), the tenant should still be responsible. Nevertheless, if the lease does not clearly allocate responsibility, problems will arise. At a minimum the lease should include a statement as to whether the property and the project in which it is located complies with the ADA, who will be responsible for retrofitting if it is required, and how the cost of compliance will be allocated. If the lease calls for Tenant Improvements and includes a Work Letter, ADA issues should be addressed in the Work Letter.