Commercial landlord is responsible for disability access

A commercial landlord who leased space for a restaurant and a liquor store can be held liable in court if the premises aren’t accessible to the disabled – even though the lease said that disability access was completely the responsibility of the tenant.

That’s the word from a federal court in California.

The case is a warning to commercial landlords that they need to be proactive and make sure that tenants are fulfilling their responsibilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A landlord and a tenant can agree that it’s up to the tenant to make sure that the premises are accessible. However, if the tenant fails to do so, the landlord is still legally on the hook, the court said.

Of course, a commercial lease can specify that the tenant will not only provide accessibility, but also indemnify the landlord for damages, defense costs and attorney fees if someone brings a lawsuit.

That’s good for the landlord … but landlords should keep in mind that tenants aren’t always in a position to provide a high-powered disability-law defense, and may not be able to pay the resulting damages, costs and fees. So even if a lease puts the onus on the tenant to enable disability access, it would be wise for a landlord to follow up and make sure that access is in fact being provided.

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