Real Estate Brokerages Make For Ripe Targets For ADA-Related, Lawyer-Authored 'Shakedown' Letters & Lawsuits In Connection With Website Accessibility For Those With Visual, Hearing Impairments
- It hasn’t gotten much public attention, but here’s something that has the real estate brokerage industry upset: a sudden wave of potentially costly and embarrassing legal challenges to companies’ websites, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.
Lawyers representing visually impaired, hearing-impaired and other clients say the vast majority of realty sites don’t offer features needed to allow handicapped individuals to shop for homes and absorb content as other people can. These features include alternative texts accompanying images, transcripts for audiovisual content, descriptive links and resizable text.
Lawyers at one firm alone — Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter in Pittsburgh — have sent out “demand letters,” as they are called, to as many as 25 realty and home-building companies in recent months. The letters threaten lawsuits if the firms do not agree to modifications of their sites. The warnings also raise the prospect of hefty financial penalties.
Benjamin J. Sweet, a Carlson Lynch partner, says website inaccessibility “is an epidemic in this country” in almost every segment of the economy.(1) He added that his firm has “more than 100 clients in 40 states” who either have been plaintiffs in various suits or are being represented through demand letters. Sweet declined to identify specific realty brokerages that have been contacted, citing the potential for litigation.
Other law firms reportedly are gearing up legal attacks — a prospect that has the National Association of Realtors worried enough that it recently pleaded with the Department of Justice to accelerate its timetable for releasing long-awaited guidance on the standards that commercial websites must meet to be compliant with the disabilities law.
In a letter to the head of Justice’s civil rights division , Tom Salomone, president of the Realtors group, said the “lack of federal regulation governing website accessibility” has “left our members confused about how to mitigate legal risks in this area or what is even required of their websites” under the law. In the meantime, “plaintiffs are using the ADA to demand restitution from businesses.”
See also, Increasing Legal Scrutiny of Website Accessibility in the Real Estate Industry.
- Court Says Settlement Agreement Does Not Bar Later Website Accessibility Lawsuit By A Different Plaintiff (With the recent proliferation of web accessibility demand letters and lawsuits, businesses often ask whether settling a claim with one plaintiff will bar future lawsuits brought by different plaintiffs. One federal judge recently said no);
ADA Title III Lawsuits Increase by 37 Percent in 2016 (There were more than 250 lawsuits filed in 2016 about allegedly inaccessible websites and/or mobile apps. This number does not include the hundreds, if not thousands, of demand letters plaintiffs sent to businesses asserting website accessibility claims). fair housing