ADA=Americans with Disabilities Act
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s purpose is to ensure places of public accommodation provide the same level of access to people with various disabilities. Like other business where people with disabilities may visit, Home Builders are not exempt.
Two key places where Home Builders may be impacted by the ADA are model homes and model homes with sales offices.
If a Home Builder offers a model home without a sales office, the model home is exempt from the ADA because residential dwellings are exempt from the ADA even when it is used as a model or example of the Home Builder’s product. However, to protect this exemption, the Home Builder must refrain from doing any form of business in the model other than using it as an example of their work. Material samples, sales documents, and other business materials should not be used in the model. Instead, these types of materials and documents should only be used in a sales office or other ADA-accessible location.
Model Homes with Sales Offices
If a builder decides to include a sales office in one of the model homes, the section used for the sales office must be accessible because it is a place of public accommodation. Often builders will put the sales office in the garage area, which is acceptable so long as it can be accessed by people with disabilities. The rest of the model home would still be exempt provided it is not being used for any other purpose except as a demonstration of the Home Builders work.
These are some examples of strategies that may need to be taken to ensure that the Sales Office in the Model Home complies with the ADA:
- No part of the model home may be used for any business other than demonstration of the Home Builder’s work. Therefore, a bathroom in the model home may not be used by anyone, including company staff, unless it meets ADA guidelines. As an alternative, many Home Builders install a temporary accessible lavatory outside the model home that is used by everyone working at or visiting the sales office and model.
- The entry into the sales office must meet ADA guidelines. If you use the garage for the sales office, which is common, you must choose a site where the slope of the driveway does not exceed ADA guidelines. And the entry into the sales office must be wide enough to allow access along with an accessible path into and through the sales office.
- Even though the model itself may not be accessible, it is still a good idea to provide a means of viewing the areas of the model that are not accessible. Offering standard industry videos of the model, or photo boards showing the model and features, are a good idea.
ADA advocates and advocacy groups are actively visiting Home Builders’ developments, particularly those with sales offices and model homes. They also are viewing your websites for accessibility.
As a Home Builder, you should take steps to ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. If you fail to do so, and you get on the radar of an ADA advocate or the U.S. Department of Justice, you could become the subject of litigation not just for current developments but projects dating back many years. Settlements usually involve payments of attorney fees, damages (under state law claims), corrections to your business operations, and training of your staff by the very advocates by whom you were sued, paid for by you.