Seyfarth Synopsis: In yet another effort to reduce ADA lawsuits, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law – effective immediately – legislation to encourage tenants and landlords to acknowledge and address any accessibility issues during lease negotiations.
On September 16, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2093 – the second new disability access reform law of the year – in the state’s continuing effort to address the huge number of accessibility lawsuits. This bill, which became effective immediately, seeks to ensure that prospective commercial real estate tenants are notified of known construction-related accessibility violations during the course of lease negotiations so that owners and tenants have the opportunity to decide how any violations will be addressed and avoid future ADA lawsuits. AB 2093 is similar to a piece of California’s last large-scale attempt at disability access reform, SB 1186 of 2012, which required a commercial property owner to state on a lease form or rental agreement executed on or after July 1, 2013, whether the property being leased or rented has undergone inspection by a certified access specialist.
AB 2093 takes the 2012 legislation one step further and requires commercial property owners to state on every lease or rental agreement executed after January 1, 2017, whether the property being leased or rented has been inspected by a California Certified Access Specialist (CASp) for compliance with construction-related accessibility standards. If it has, and there have been no alterations affecting accessibility since, the owner must provide the prospective tenant a copy of the CASp report at least 48 hours prior to the execution of the lease or rental agreement. Any necessary repairs are deemed the responsibility of the owner unless the landlord and tenant contractually agree otherwise. If the CASp report indicates the property meets applicable accessibility standards, the owner must provide the report and CASp certificate to the tenant within seven days of the execution of the lease or rental agreement.
If the property has not been CASp-inspected, the owner must include specific language in the lease or rental agreement notifying the prospective tenant that: (a) a CASp can inspect the property and determine whether the property complies with construction-related accessibility standards; (b) a CASp inspection is not required by law; (c) the owner may not prohibit the tenant from obtaining a CASp inspection of the property; and (d) the owner and tenant shall mutually agree on the terms of the CASp inspection, including time, payment of fees, and allocation of responsibility for making any required corrections to accessibility violations identified in the CASp report.
Earlier this year, the Governor signed into law SB 269, which largely sought provide small business owners with some relief and protect businesses against liability for certain “technical” violations. Both bills come on the heels of 2015’s AB 1521, which imposed procedural and substantive prerequisites to a “high-frequency litigant” filing a lawsuit in California state courts.
AB 2093 is intended to raise the issue of the existence of possible violations of the ADA and California accessibility laws during the course of commercial property lease negotiations to encourage business owners to make any necessary repairs in a proactive manner, rather than making repairs as a reaction to a future ADA lawsuit from a plaintiff seeking the $4,000 per violation bounty offered by California’s disability access laws. Only time will tell if this latest effort at reform will make any difference in mitigating the huge, and growing number of disability access lawsuits in California (and across the country). For those of you closely following state government attempts to intervene and quell the proliferation of disability access lawsuits, read about the Arizona Attorney General’s recent action here.