ADA upgrades to Existing Buildings in San Francisco
We’re all too familiar with drive-by lawsuits targeting small, minority owned businesses in the bay area for non-compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Experienced and knowledgeable San Francisco bay area Architects guide their clients through the process and have a (CASp) Certified Accessibility Specialist review the drawings, inspect the site and advise accordingly. Recently, one of our restaurant clients was sued for non-compliance. On his first visit he showed us plans that had been done 3 years ago by an engineering professional in an attempt to renovate the building for a new tenant. The set had been copied line by a line from an older Architectural permit set done in the 70s (when the building was first constructed). It wasn’t complying with relevant building codes and regulations. The quality of the drawings was quite bad and shockingly had been approved by the local governing authority. There were clear errors with accessible parking, path of travel and entrance that had not been addressed. A 30+ industry veteran still needs to keep up with the current, relevant codes, something that most people overlook when selecting their architects or engineering professionals. When doing a tenant improvement or a renovation/remodel to a place of business most people watch their pockets instead of working with experienced and knowledgeable architects in the bay area that demonstrate technique, knowledge and experience. ‘Experience’ needs to be relevant, codes and regulations change all the time, along with implementation of new ordinances. Your selected professional needs to know what’s happening today not 15 years ago. Also, if/when an existing business establishment does get such a notice from claimants or attorneys, knowledge of Senate Bill 1186 signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September of 2012 may be helpful. The law has prohibited ‘demand for money’ letters, and requires that such letters be sent at least 30 days prior to filing a lawsuit and must include specific problems with accessibility. These letters can only state that the business owner, Landlord or Tenant ‘may be civilly liable’ and cannot include any demands for money. Attorneys sending such letters are required to send a copy of the letter to the California State Bar, so that the letter can be examined to make sure it meets the law. The law helps landlords, business owners to dismiss unsupported lawsuits without much expense. Below are some key points from the Bill, (it helps to know your rights as a business or property owner):
1. If your business is in a building that was completed after Jan. 1, 2008 or has had a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) inspection, you have 60 days to fix an ADA violation and statutory damages go down from $4,000 to $1,000.
2. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees that haven’t had a CASp inspection have 30 days to fix a violation and their statutory damages are reduced from $4,000 to $2,000.
3. If the property is a new construction or improvement that has been inspected and approved by the local building department’s permit and inspection process on or after January 1, 2008, and has had no modifications/alterations that affect compliance with the ADA standards since then, has 60 days to correct violations if any.
CASp stands for Certified Accessibility Specialist, it is a program designed to meet the general public’s need for experienced and trained individuals who can advise on Accessibility related issues in light of State of California codes and regulations and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Senate Bill 1186 works in your favor if you have had a CASp inspection for your premise and a CASp report has been issued.
If you would like to know about Accessibility related issues or are interested in having your property inspected, hb+a Architects can help. Our team’s combined experience can help guide you through regulatory requirements and advise accordingly.