The path to ADA fines is paved with good intentions. You might want to make your park more enjoyable for residents, but some additions could make it a headache for you. If you’ve read a few of my articles, you probably know how I feel about amenities. I’m not a fan. Not only are they expensive, they’re an invitation for a lawsuit. [link to article]
And, if you’re a mobile home park owner in Oregon, those additions to your park could also open you up for an ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, violation. Not staying in compliance with the ADA can get you fined. Limit your liability in Oregon by taking care of what you’re responsible for and not adding more work with amenities.
Triggering, Then Meeting, ADA Requirements
You know what’s great about being a park owner? There’s not a lot you’re responsible for. Your tenants own their homes, so it’s up to them to make sure they’re up to code. You’re only responsible for the land. You just need to make sure that your common areas and amenities are accessible. That’s where most park owners run into trouble.
Typically, you’re going to trigger ADA compliance once you make $20,000 in improvements to an Oregon mobile home park. So if you add just about any kind of amenity, then you’ve likely opened yourself up for Americans with Disabilities compliance requirements, which can be broken down into three areas:
- Access: The landlord needs to make sure that all tenants can access community amenities—not just tenants in their physical prime. One overlooked accessibility issue is doorknobs. Go with levers, not knobs. Think of an older person, with arthritis in their hands. They won’t be able to open your office or clubhouse door if it’s round because of grip issues.
- Egress: Just like people need to safely get into a building, they need to safely leave. A big problem I see is wheelchair ramps being too steep or uneven. Wheelchair users shouldn’t have to do a wheelie to get over a door threshold and the ramp should be tapered so they won’t have to ride the brake on the way down.
- Reasonable accommodation: Some reasonable accommodations, like service dog access, are automatic—you just acknowledge permission. Others are more complicated because it’s unclear who’s responsible, like when a wheelchair ramp borders a city sidewalk.
Now, just because you’ve followed every rule doesn’t mean you won’t get a complaint. That’s a fact of life, which is why you want to prepare. The right ADA consultant will help you fix issues before they become complaints, saving you time and money in the long run.
Be Proactive, Hire an Expert
The thing about ADA compliance is that it’s easy to miss things. After all, most people don’t know what it’s like to walk with a cane or need the help of a wheelchair. That’s why it’s possible you’re going to miss a thing or two if you try to tackle compliance on your own.
This is where a consultant can help you out. They don’t cost very much, from my experience about $400 to $600, but in the long run they can save you a lot. These individuals are experts in common ADA issues.
Generally, they’ll provide you with a report after doing an inspection of your property. They’ll note any potential problems and offer recommendations for fixing them, marking them as green, yellow, or red in priority:
- Green: Optional, but would improve access or use
- Yellow: Small issue now, but potentially a big problem later
- Red: Must be fixed immediately
The key here is being proactive so you can save money. Your ADA consultant is going to run you about $500 per job. But, a specialized ADA lawyer is going to cost you closer to $500 an hour. The first thing you should do when you get a complaint from a tenant is to hire an ADA consultant to look into the issue. On the other hand, the first thing you should do if you get notice of an official complaint or lawsuit is talk to a lawyer—and your insurance company.
When an Official Complaint Is Made
If you’re proactive when you get a complaint from a tenant, then you probably won’t have to deal with any lawsuits or fines stemming from the ADA. But that’s not to say you won’t see a frivolous lawsuit or two. If you have liability insurance, then you’ll want to contact them. If not, then you’ll want to consult with a lawyer. They can answer on your behalf so you won’t lose by default, which is what many of those frivolous suit filers hope for.
In my 25 years in the business, I haven’t had anything get that big. That’s because I resolve most of my problems proactively, when they’re still just yellow on my consultant’s report. That’s your best bet for avoiding ADA complaints in Oregon; that, and taking it easy on the community amenities.
If you’re starting to think that this wasn’t what you signed up for, you’re not alone. More than a few people overlook all the government red tape when they buy a park. If you want out, I can help. Give me a call or shoot me an email to get a fair quote for your mobile home park.