The Americans With Disabilities Act requires businesses to provide equal access to entrances, doorknobs, drinking fountains and restrooms to disabled customers. If a business leases its space from a landlord, both the landlord and the tenant may be responsible for providing such access. Some leases specify that the tenant is responsible for making improvements; however, legally, the landlord is also responsible for making the exterior accessible, regardless of the lease terms.
As of 2011, landlords and tenants are mutually responsible for providing access to disabled guests of the tenant unless the lease clarifies who is responsible. For example, if the lease states that tenants are responsible for building wheelchair ramps or making other structural improvements, the tenant is solely liable for guests in wheelchairs' inability to access the property. If the lease does not specify this, however, the landlord and tenant are both responsible. Many states consider the landlord responsible for the exterior of the property, regardless of what the lease says, as the tenant does not rent the outside of the property.
Public policy requires landlords to keep property up to code, including making needed improvements so that disabled visitors can access the property. Thus, if a property has an accessibility issue, the landlord is generally responsible for repairing that problem, with the exception of problems on the inside of the property that the lease specifies is the tenant's sole responsibility. If a problem is so obvious that any visitor would notice it, the tenant bears responsibility for not reporting the problem to the landlord or not reporting the landlord to the ADA if he refuses to resolve the problem.
Interior of Property
Many leases specify that tenants are responsible for accessibility within the property they lease. This provision usually refers only to the inside of the property; the outside of the building is not considered part of the tenant's leased property. For example, tenants may be responsible for providing wheelchair ramps if they lease a property that has steps on the inside, although they are not responsible for providing wheelchair ramps on the outside of the property.
Both landlords and tenants should examine the lease carefully prior to signing. The lease must specify who is responsible for accessibility issues on the property, as well as the extent of the tenant's responsibility if he is responsible for some accessibility issues. Furthermore, the tenant should inspect the property for serious issues before agreeing to lease. For example, if there are inside steps, the tenant should discuss interior accessibility with the landlord prior to leasing the property.