How an ADA Lawsuit Could Cost You

Many small business owners get caught off guard by ADA lawsuits, don’t let yourself be one of them.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that guarantees access to public businesses to people with disabilities. If you don’t adhere to these guidelines, you could face civil suits from individual plaintiffs, as well as fines or legal action from the Department of Justice (DOJ). This article will detail what ADA lawsuits are and how they can cost your storage facility.

What is the ADA ?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that requires private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities. These protections also extend to anyone who visits a business that is open to the public such as a restaurant, hotel, store and, of course, a self-storage facility.

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by a business to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Common examples include providing a ramp for a wheelchair user or providing materials in accessible formats such as large print, Braille, or audiotape.

What are some of its implications for self-storage owners?

The ADA is designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with a disability and ensure they can participate in society as easily as anyone else. ADA lawsuits are not just brought against big corporations but also small local businesses. Cases can be brought by employees, as well as customers.

The ADA is very specific as to what accommodations are required.

If a person with disabilities visits your facility and discovers that any part of your property is not meeting those requirements, they have grounds for a  lawsuit. Some lawsuits are brought by serial filers, who visit businesses regularly looking for potential violations of the ADA. No matter the nature of the lawsuit, however, your business could be liable for every violation of the ADA.

ADA Liability

The requirements of the ADA are outlined in the document titled ADA Standards for Accessible Design (the Standards). These Standards include provisions regarding an establishment’s:

  • Parking lot
  • Walkways
  • Doorways
  • Restrooms
  • Other areas of a building or facility that are open to and used by public members. 

If a business fails to comply with these standards, it can be sued under Title III of the ADA. Title III covers any private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation—which includes retail stores, restaurants, and hotels—or commercial facilities such as office buildings and factories. It also applies to state and local governments when they provide programs, activities, or services that affect interstate commerce.

How much could an ADA lawsuit cost?

Suppose a business fails to comply with ADA regulations and someone files a lawsuit. In that case, it may need to pay compensatory damages—such as compensation for lost wages or medical bills—and cover that person’s attorney fees. On average, that could cost about $25,000—not including your own legal fees. The amount of money awarded in compensatory damages depends on what kind of harm occurred because of noncompliance. In addition, the business will have to spend money completing the needed repairs and upgrades to comply with the ADA.

ADA Compliance Checklist

While many businesses have taken significant steps to make their establishments ADA compliant, others have fallen behind or do not understand what these laws mean for them. To avoid a costly lawsuit, evaluate your property on a regular basis to make sure that it is up to ADA standards. If your facility isn’t compliant, start working upgrades into the maintenance schedule to protect your business from ADA liability. 

Entryways

Making your facility accessible to individuals with disabilities begins with physical access from public sidewalks, public transportation, or parking. Having only one step at the door can prevent wheelchair, walker, or cane users from entering and make entry difficult for many other people with mobility problems.

Where there are one or two steps at an entry, users can gain access in a variety of ways, such as by using an alternate accessible entrance, creating a short ramp, changing the area in front or to the side of the door to eliminate a step, or installing a lift.

Ramps

Curb edges and other dangers can be extremely harmful to those with impairments. The ADA curb ramp regulations are in place to help prevent persons from falling out of wheelchairs or scooters or tripping when walking with a cane or walker. Accessibility is also a consideration, as federal regulations consider barring access in public places as discrimination. 

Parking Spaces

The suitable stall sizes, markings, and slot positions must be considered and observed to fully comply with the norms and regulations for handicap-accessible parking. If you choose to apply new markings to a new parking facility or to restripe an existing one, these are the details you must be aware of to ensure compliance.

Accessible Storage Units

The ADA required self-storage facilities to comply with specific particular standards as of March 15, 2012. Here’s a breakdown of the rules:

  • A minimum of 5% of the first 200 units in each self-storage facility must be wheelchair accessible.
  • In addition, 2% of all units above 200 must be wheelchair accessible.
  • Wheelchair-accessible units must be available in all unit types that a company offers.
  • If a non-disabled renter requires a wheelchair-accessible unit, the business is not necessary to keep it.

Elevators

The elevator must be easily accessible in a public location (rather than, say, a cramped hallway). In addition:

  • Doors must be fully open for at least three seconds. 
  • Call buttons must be at least 0.75 inches in diameter. 
  • Button heights must be 42 inches above the floor.

Protecting Your Business from ADA Lawsuits

It would be best if you made your facility as accessible as possible. Some visitors may experience difficulties that have nothing to do with your business. If a disabled customer has an accident and decides to file a lawsuit against you, it’s your job to prove that reasonable accommodations were made—and that someone else was at fault for any injuries or property damage caused by their actions or negligence. 

To help protect yourself from ADA lawsuits, remember to always do the following:

  • Make accommodations in your facility to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. Ensure that all entrances, hallways, and restrooms are wide enough for wheelchairs. 
  • Install ramps and grab bars in bathrooms, if necessary.
  • Install wheelchair-accessible equipment. If a customer requests assistance, train staff to provide adequate support to users of walkers and wheelchairs. Be sure to train employees on how best to assist disabled customers when they request help moving from one area of your facility to another.
  • Instruct employees on what they can and cannot do. If someone has a disability-related complaint against your business, it’s essential that you can prove your employee didn’t go above and beyond their responsibilities.

New Climate Report Warns of Greater Flood Risk for Coastal Self-Storage Operators

A new government report on climate change warns of rapidly rising seas in the coming years.

The report projects that sea levels along the U.S. coastline will rise on average 10 to 12 inches by 2050. Levels are expected to rise up to 14 inches along the East coast, and up to 18 inches along the Gulf coast. The projected rise in sea levels over the next 30 years is equivalent to the rise that took place over the last 100 years.

The rapid rise in sea levels will lead to more severe coastal flooding, with damaging floods occurring on average more than 10 times as often each year as they currently take place. Major destructive floods are expected to occur five times as often.

What does the new climate report mean for self-storage operators?

Facilities in coastal and other flood prone regions can expect greater risk of being impacted by flooding events in the coming years—even if historically it has not been a common issue. While there is little storage facilities can do to reverse the trend of rising seas, there are steps they can take to mitigate the risk that surging waters pose.

To assess their risk, self-storage operators should check the flood maps provided by FEMA. They can also check out the coastal Seal Level Rise Viewer from NOAA to see how their facility may be affected by the latest climate change report. 

Floodproofing Buildings

Self-storage operators should consider several floodproofing techniques when constructing new facilities. Such measures can help protect tenants’ belongings and avoid disruptions to business operations. For new facilities, site selection is the first line of defense—building on higher ground is a common sense decision. 

Other methods of floodproofing that can be applied to new and existing storage buildings are divided into wet floodproofing and dry floodproofing approaches. Wet floodproofing are measures that allow floodwaters to enter a building but redirect it to areas such as a subbasement. This intent is to minimize damage to storage units and critical systems like HVAC equipment.

Dry floodproofing measures aim to block floodwaters from entering buildings by sealing all openings including doors, windows and utility penetrations. This approach is typically more cost-prohibitive and may be impractical when it comes to sealing roll up doors used by the vast majority of storage operations.

For more on these and additional approaches on floodproofing such as flood walls and levees, FEMA offers a comprehensive guide for non-residential buildings with lots of useful information.

Flood Insurance

In light of the latest climate research, now is a great time for self-storage operators to reevaluate their need for flood insurance for their facilities and for their tenants. With the rapid rise in sea levels, facilities that previously did not identify a need for flood insurance may want to reconsider. Remember typical business insurance policies do not cover natural flooding events—coverage requires a separate flood insurance policy. Tenants should be reminded to obtain supplemental flood insurance where applicable as well.

Making The Shift To Digital Practices

E-commerce has been on the rise for years. In fact, in 2020, e-commerce grew by a whopping 32.4% just in the US. The self-storage industry is no exception to this digital shift. If we think back to the beginning of the COVID 19 health crisis, self-storage operators around the world saw a massive surge in online usage. Between quarantining, shutdowns and social distancing, the need for e-commerce transactions and contactless experiences for many businesses, including the self-storage industry, arose. This experience led to many storage operators implementing digital practices like online rentals, digital lease agreements, insurance signups and much more.  

As the self-storage industry continues to modernize and become more dependent on technology, management software and the considerations it brings become increasingly important when budgeting and planning for your self-storage business. In the not too distant past, running a facility was largely a manual process with pencil and paper ledgers. When you had a problem with billing or customer records, the staff on-site or owners were responsible to solve the issue and find the best solution going forward.

When you choose to use management software, some of that ability to directly control the situation is removed and placed with a trusted partner. Of course, the point of management software is to be a net positive for your business and the gains should far outweigh any inconveniences you may encounter. But what should you expect and plan for when you put management software in place? Let’s review some points to turn your experience shifting to digital practices into something easy and comfortable.

Match Your Business’ Needs

Firstly, choose the management software that fits your business and your unique needs. As self-storage operators, there are more choices to fill business needs than ever before. Recent growth in the market has also fueled expansion and growth in the management software industry. But each option available might not be the best fit for you. To select the best management software, consider your business needs.

Are you managing a single facility or are you managing dozens? Does your staff value simplicity, or do you need the most comprehensive feature set available?

Make a list of your company’s must-haves. This will help you narrow down your choice and find the software that best fits your needs. By identifying your needs and values first, choosing the platform and services to run your business will be a much easier decision.

Research Integrations

Management software is only the first step in your journey to digitalization. After narrowing down the software to manage your facility, the next step is to look into compatible integrations. As a self-storage facility, it’s increasingly more important to offer contactless rentals. This highlights the need for specific facility features that aid the contactless process, such as digital tenant insurance and access control. Many self-storage management software options don’t have the capabilities for these services but instead, offer integrations that allow the programs to work together. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all programs and software work together. It’s important to research the needs of your facility and choose the software that will work seamlessly for you. 

After you’ve considered your business’s needs and researched integrations to further narrow down your choice of facility management software, you’re one step closer to taking on this new digital world within the self-storage industry. 

Performance Management Techniques for Self-Storage Business Owners

Good managers are constantly looking for different ways to maximize the efficiency of their employees. Performance management techniques are a key way management can evaluate employees, check on who is performing well, who may need help and who needs terminating.

Hiring good employees and training them does not mean the job of the management team is over. Diligent managers will measure the performance of employees periodically to ensure the business is running as smoothly as possible. As a professional business consultant for over three decades, I have helped dozens of business owners by teaching them different performance management techniques to get the most out of their employees. Here are a few of the key areas a self-storage business owner can focus on when evaluating their employees. 

Set goals for your employees

Within any business goals need to be set. Employees who do not understand the expectations of their job can fall short with their duties. Managers need to give their employees long-term and short-term goals and make sure that all training and meetings correlate with those goals. Periodically throughout the month, management must meet with their employees and provide feedback on performance.

Management must monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge the performance of each employee. One-way managers can do this is to have monthly or bi-weekly meetings with employees. By checking in with employees on a regular basis you can help them get better at their job and perform at the top of their potential. If you wait for yearly or bi-annual performance reviews many things can slip through the cracks and it can be too late to fix them.

During monthly or bi-weekly meetings check on different areas in which you are monitoring employee’s performance. These can be such things as tasks being met in a timely manner, customer service reviews, and payments from unit renters being paid on time and deposited correctly. There are many areas you can decide to grade your employees so see which ones are most important to your business and proceed from there.

It is also important to display a performance dashboard in an area where the entire staff can see their performance metrics as well as their fellow team members. It is the responsibility of management to keep this dashboard up to date and reviewed weekly.

Incentivize your employees

Speaking with employees weekly will provide the team with constant feedback that will help them become better employees and representatives of the business. If an employee is consistently meeting or exceeding their goals it may be time to reward them for their hard work. Incentives for employees can include bonuses, awards, raises or even vacation days. It is up to the management team to decide which is the best incentive for the employee.

Inspire your team

Management needs to constantly be motivating their employees. Managers also need to lead their teams by example. To maintain high standards in your self-storage business, managers need to inspire the employees to perform at the best of their abilities. Managers also need to hold themselves accountable and by doing so will show the employees that they take their jobs seriously which will have a positive effect on the entire team.

Create a performance-based environment

A performance-based environment will keep employees working at optimum levels because they know the better they perform in their position the more likely they will receive an incentive for their hard work.

On the performance dashboard list every team member. There needs to be categories for the duties each employee must perform during the regular shift. These can include customer satisfaction, positive reviews, and number of storage units rented. Each week update the board with a numeric system for everyone to see. By letting everyone see each other’s performance it will be a motivating tool to do better in certain areas or meet the level another employee is reaching. This is not a competition but a motivating tool to keep everyone accountable for their position within the business. 

The performance of employees will help the business succeed. If the employees are meeting and exceeding their duties, then you know your customers are having a good experience with your business. Using these techniques will help management keep track of employees while also helping them become even better at their jobs.

About the Author:

John Waters is the Principal of Waters Business Consulting Group, LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is an expert at helping business owners and management grow their business.

Crime Prevention Tips for Self-Storage Facilities

Vandalism cost small businesses an average of nearly $3,500 per incident. Lost sales, repairs and replacements, business interruption, are among the many losses your self-storage facility can face after experiencing a crime. Plus, the attack doesn’t always come from the outside; sometimes, employees or customers cause a loss. These crime prevention tips will help you protect your business from financial damage. 

Develop Cash-Handling Procedures

Small businesses and enterprises alike experience money theft. Much of the time, employees don’t follow best practices for handling cash — mainly because they are untaught. As a result, employee training goes a long way to protect your money. Besides keeping your eye on your money, try keeping less cash on-site and investing in cash management technology to boost your accuracy. 

Also, consider reviewing your cash-handling history. Do you continually experience differences? Or is your petty cash in the same drawer as your slush fund? Do you have a schedule for handling money, and have you been strict about following those procedures? 

Although each loss might only add up to a few bucks, the financial damage can be significant over time. Look for ways that you and your employees can tighten up cash-handling procedures. 

Screen Employees Thoroughly

Employee theft accounts for over one-third of business bankruptcies. As astounding as this fact is, small businesses often take the brunt of the damage. Unfortunately, it’s tough to screen employees to avoid petty theft or even cash larceny. Consider the five most popular ways businesses experience employee theft:

  1. Inventory theft
  2. Data theft
  3. Payroll theft
  4. Theft of services
  5. Theft of cash

If you plan on entrusting any number of employees with cash handling, product or service management, or sensitive information, you must follow a vetting process for these individuals. Naturally, it’s challenging to screen candidates for every single kind of theft. After all, up to 75% of all employees have stolen something from an employer at one time. Whether it’s walking out with a company pen or stealing cash funds from the register, employee theft is widespread. 

Nevertheless, consider pre-employment screening as your first line of defense against employee theft. Talk to a candidate’s previous employers, complete a background check, or examine social media for examples of questionable behavior. 

Update Your Security

Self-storage facility owners struggle finding the best locks continually. Vandals can cut padlocks and bust through weather-worn fences or gates. Consider upgrading your traditional padlock for safer alternatives. Invest in security cameras, and keep the cash box or register area under constant surveillance. 

Also, install lights around your property to repel burglars during non-business hours. If you have an on-site safe, change the passcode or combination regularly, and make daily bank deposits instead of keeping money in your office overnight.

These simple changes might seem like minor adjustments, but they will help prevent crime from causing your self-storage facility financial damage in the long run.