House Passes Bill to Curb ‘Drive-by’ Accessibility Lawsuits

February 16, 2018

Accessibility advocates could get better enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act while small commercial property owners could see fewer lawsuits threatened against them under a bill that passed the House yesterday.

The ADA Education and Reform Act, H.R. 620, which passed the House with both Republican and Democratic votes, would require plaintiffs who alert property owners to a potential accessibility violation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to give them 60 days notice and then another 60 days to either fix the problem or have a detailed plan to do so.

“The bill would restore integrity to ADA enforcement,” said Ted Thurn, director of government affairs for the Institute of Real Estate Management, a National Association of REALTORS® affiliate.

NAR supports the bill and encouraged its passage with a Call for Action to commercial real estate professionals. IREM and other commercial property groups also encouraged passage.

The bill takes aim at a practice in which complainants, typically with help from counsel, send a demand letter threatening commercial property owners with a lawsuit for an alleged accessibility violation, like an incorrect slope in a parking lot or faded signage that would be hard for a visually impaired person to read. Owners are told to pay a fee to the complainant, typically around $5,000, to avoid having to defend themselves in court, without addressing the merits of the allegation.

Owners refer to these as “drive-by” lawsuits because the plaintiffs send out letters to dozens of property owners without necessarily visiting the properties to determine if, in fact, there’s a violation.

IREM conducted a 2016 survey of its members and found that more than a third of them have been hit with a demand letter of this type, and most paid a fee to settle out of court to avoid the expense and time of a lawsuit.

NAR and other groups are working with the Senate to get a bill introduced in that chamber to address this issue.

Learn more in this video from NAR Government Affairs.

—REALTOR® Magazine