Getting sued is a rite of passage in the United States. If you reach the age of 30 and somebody hasn’t sued you for something yet, then either you’re still in school or medical residency, or you’re a master of “stealth wealth”, or you haven’t accumulated enough for someone else to decide it’s worth trying to take. Sadly, our nation is full of entitlement-minded idiots and an army of ambulance-chasing profiteers has arisen to help serve them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of tort law as a way to compensate someone for the costs associated with an actual injury that’s actually another person’s fault. However in practice it’s often used abusively. Here in my hometown of Albuquerque, NM there was an incident where a woman and her attorney filed 99 malicious Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims in just a few days. She claimed that she’d tried to enter certain businesses in her wheelchair, encountered a barrier, and been prevented from doing business for that reason. In reality, the goal was to try to gouge money out of as many small businesses as possible. The plaintiff had been paid $50 per suit filed, and the business owners and managers reported not having seen someone trying to enter, ringing the bell, or calling the phone number of the business in question. There was no actual attempt to enter, much less to negotiate with the business owner over whether to put in a ramp or some other means of access.
Contrary to popular belief, simply not having a ramp or having a cramped or awkwardly designed restroom does not by itself constitute an ADA violation. If there’s a problem with the building design that’s easily remedied, then the correct process is for the person who wants access but isn’t getting it to contact the business owner. The owner is then responsible for taking the appropriate steps to provide access. However, in cases where the business is in an old building that lacks elevators, ramps, or other modern access improvements, and when the business does not actually own the building or have the means to perform the renovations, they don’t have to do it.
There’s been an upsurge in malicious prosecutions under the ADA where the same individual claims to have been injured multiple times, in the same way, at different locations. The ADA allows them to claim attorney’s fees, which can be made artificially exorbitant. This unfortunately hampers genuine victims of discrimination because they are less likely to be believed or taken seriously.
As a landlord, if your tenant requests a reasonable accommodation such as a grab bar in the bathtub shower, it makes sense to provide it. You can claim it as a business expense, and if you get the kind that is removable you can always remove it after the tenant moves on. However if your tenant is asking for wider doors, a ramp, or an accessible stove, these are all potentially expensive changes. The law requires landlords to make these changes if the tenant pays for them. You are under no circumstances required to make expensive renovations out of your own pocket. If you choose to do so in order to target, for example, the mobility-impaired market, it will most likely be worth your while if your house is stairless.