Accessibility Is a Broker’s Responsibility

Is your office accessible to clients with disabilities? Here are some tips from NAR legal counsel for making sure your brokerage is and continues to be ADA compliant.

January 30, 2015

When was the last time you evaluated the accessibility of your office?

Real estate offices are considered places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Broker-owners must understand and comply with the law by making sure physical office spaces are accessible to people with disabilities. Compliance not only protects a business against legal action, it also helps ensure that reputable service is being provided to all clients in the community.

In the National Association of REALTORS®’ monthly video series, Window to the Law, NAR Associate Counsel Lesley Walker addresses frequently asked questions that NAR receives about the ADA and outlines the responsibilities of a brokerage owner.

Here are elements of Title III that brokers should be mindful of in order to stay aligned with the ADA.

Physical Space

“We recommend that real estate offices and real estate board offices conduct a physical audit of their office spaces to determine the accessibility of the space and what, if any, changes need to be made,” Walker says.

She points to the Department of Justice’s list of 21 modification examples considered “readily achievable” for places of accommodation – meaning such modifications can be completed without much difficulty or expense.  This list includes installing ramps, widening doorways, repositioning office furniture and phones, making cutouts in sidewalks and entrances, installing flashing alarms, lights, and more.

Walker suggests that office managers schedule routine ADA evaluations to ensure ongoing ADA compliance.

Home Offices

Do your salespeople conduct business at home? Make sure they understand how the ADA applies to their home offices.

“Any portion of a home that is used as a home office where business is conducted with customers would also be considered a place of accommodation requiring ADA compliance,” Walker says.

If your agents are meeting with clients in their home office, then the home office is considered a place of public accommodation under the ADA just like a brokerage office, and your agents must adhere to the same obligations.

Communication

ADA also requires real estate offices to remove communication barriers by offering auxiliary aids. Walker says it is important to open up a dialog and ask customers what auxiliary aid or service they may require to facilitate effective communication. An example of this would be providing an interpreter for a client with a hearing impairment.

Paying for such accommodations is the broker’s responsibility. The brokerage does not necessarily have to provide the exact auxiliary aid requested, Walker says, but must provide one that enables effective communication for the disabled individual.

Real estate offices are not required to provide personal assistance devices, however, such as hearing aids or wheelchairs.

Meetings and Events

Planning to host a conference or special event? It is the responsibility of the business or organization hosting the event to meet ADA obligations. The facility housing the gathering may take on ADA responsibility if it’s outlined in the rental contract agreement. Walker says it’s important to make sure that the contract indemnifies your business if the facility violates the ADA.

The responsibility of providing auxiliary aids still falls on the host. Walker suggests asking event or meeting attendees in advance if they require any communication aids.

Websites

The question of whether a website is a place of public accommodation under the ADA is still unresolved, Walker says.

“Twenty years ago, when the ADA was first enacted, the Internet existed, but it certainly did not play an integral part of our everyday personal and professional lives the way it does today,” Walker says.

Courts’ decisions are split on this issue. In January 2010, the Department of Justice took the position that websites are places of public accommodation, and plans to issue proposed regulations on this subject. Issuance of such regulations has been delayed until at least March of this year.

“This would be a good time to begin familiarizing yourself with measures that need to be taken to make a website accessible,” Walker says.

Noncompliance?

There are consequences for not complying with the ADA. Private parties can bring lawsuits against your office. The attorney general also has the authority to file a lawsuit when there is a pattern of alleged discriminations or in cases of general public importance. If a real estate office is found to be noncompliant, the company can face monetary and civil penalties, Walker says.

Don’t forget to check your state laws as well, Walker says. State law may provide greater protection for people with disabilities than the ADA, requiring brokers to comply with both state and federal laws.

Learn more from NAR’s Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Kit.



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