As the internet has become indispensable to everyday life, particularly during the pandemic, business owners have had to make sure their websites are accessible. Multifamily landlords are likely familiar with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that their properties can be accessed to all tenants, shareholders and owners, but the courts are increasingly extending these requirements to websites as well.
Providing a website that can be used by people with varying visual and physical needs is important from a customer service standpoint — and accessibility can benefit everyone — but property managers should also look ahead to possible legal challenges.
Richard Klein, who heads the co-op and condominium board practice at Romer Debbas, LLP, a New York City real estate law firm, notes that property owners may face lawsuits if their websites aren’t accessible — for example, if a building’s application or co-op board minutes are only available online, a visually impaired person who uses a screen reader needs to be able to access it.
“The requirement is that it has to be a reasonable accommodation,” Klein said.
Just as a ramp to accommodate a wheelchair doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture, property managers don’t need to take on a massive website redesign. There are web accessibility consultants and also companies that provide add-ons that provide accessibility. Some of these, such as a company called accessiBe, have solutions that start at $500 per year.
“There is a cost factor, but in the long run they’re better off addressing it now,” Klein said.
Klein recommends that landlords and property managers speak with their web developer or find a technology consultant who’s well versed in web accessibility.
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“I think this is going to become a hotter issue right now because of the pandemic,” Klein said. “More people are going to do business online. I don’t think there’s anyone who can get away with saying I can’t make this accessible.”