ADA Compliance and the Impact of Hotel Renovations

By Christine Samsel Attorney, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck | September 23, 2018

Co-authored by Jonathan Sandler & Allison L. Gambill, Shareholders, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

For the hospitality industry, navigating the maze of complex requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") can prove to be a daunting task. The risk of being sued for noncompliance has never been higher. Disabled individuals have been pursuing hospitality companies in court for years, asserting a variety of claims related to physical accessibility issues, such as pool lifts, parking lot configurations and guest room features. (For a discussion of the recent trend of lawsuits focusing on website accessibility and reservation policies for accessible rooms, see our prior article, Hospitality Industry Particularly Susceptible to ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits.

Often, the accessibility issue stems from a misunderstanding on the part of the lodging facility as to the applicable ADA standards; it is sometimes difficult to determine when alterations and renovations made to a facility-or portion of a facility-trigger application of updated ADA standards. Making it more difficult, different aspects of a facility may be subject to different versions of ADA Accessibility Standards.

This article provides guidance on how to determine which Title III ADA standards apply to which portions of the facility, including how renovations may impact compliance requirements. This article addresses federal law; states (such as California) may impose additional accessibility requirements.

Determining Which ADA Standards Apply to Your Facility

In 1991, the Department of Justice published the ADA Title III regulations, which included the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (the "1991 Standards"). The 1991 Standards outline detailed requirements to ensure that places of public accommodation, including hotels, motels, inns and other lodging facilities, are accessible to individuals with disabilities. The Department of Justice published revised regulations and adopted updated accessibility standards with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (the "2010 Standards"), permitting the 1991 Standards to be applied until March 14, 2012.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.