On September 19, 2012, Governor Brown signed SB 1186 into law. This bill adds new rules and protections for business owners related to access compliance requirements set forth under the ADA, the California Building Code and SB 1608 (2008). As of July 1, 2013, the new law helps protect business owners from predatory lawsuits related to access violations while attempting to increase awareness as well as compliance with all accessibility laws.
Here is a quick rundown of the changes:
- Business properties that was new construction after January1, 2008 or any business that has had a CASp inspection now have 60 days to remedy alleged access violations. Statutory damages may be reduced from $4000 down to $1000.
- Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees also receive some relief. While damages are not reduced all the way down to $1000, they are halved to $2000.
- Prior to SB 1186, there was no protection against demand letters from plaintiffs. Plaintiffs could send a letter to business owners stating that they were denied access into the establishment, and unless the business owner paid upwards of $4,000, they would face a court case and large legal fees. Many times it would be unclear exactly what the alleged violations even were. The good news is, as of January 1, 2013, the current demand letter process is no longer permitted with regards to access compliance.
- Pre-litigation letters are required to meet several specific requirements:
- A statement of facts to allow a reasonable person identify the alleged violations.
- An explanation of how the plaintiff has been prevented from accessing the facility in question.
- There can be no demand for money as an offer to avoid litigation. The letter may only state that the property owner, landlord or tenant “may be civilly liable’ for the alleged violations.
- In addition, attorneys sending any demand letters must submit the letters to the State Bar as well as the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA). The State Bar reviews to verify the new standards are being complied with and the CCDA will review the nature of the claims and will publish a (yet to be developed) top ten list of violations.
- As of January 1, 2013, all business licenses in California are assessed an additional $1 each year. This dollar fee is intended to go toward promoting the CASp program in the state. How this fee will eventually be administered and how it will affect access compliance in the state of California remains to be seen. But any promotion of access compliance awareness should be viewed as a net benefit to the public and business owners alike.
- As of July 1, 2013, all property owners are required to inform prospective tenants whether the property in question has had a CASp inspection. If the property has been inspected, the property owner shall provide any report to the prospective tenant. While there is NO requirement to have a CASp inspection (it is still a voluntary program), knowing whether a property has been inspected and what (if any) access violations exist, gives tenant added comfort when signing on the dotted line for their lease.
While these modifications to access compliance regulations in the State of California do provide significant relief to businesses, this should not be viewed as a panacea which relieves business owners from access regulation requirements. Accessibility laws have been on the books in California for decades and it is the responsibility of all businesses to improve their establishments. Of course the best way to understand and identify access compliance issues is to schedule and obtain a CASp inspection as soon as possible.
CamCASp is a full service CASp inspection service.