Small business owners in Mesa and surrounding East Valley cities are being served with a plethora of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking lot compliance lawsuits.
Most of the summons are coming from what many call a “serial parking plaintiff,” David Ritzenthaler, a Scottsdale resident. He’s filed the lawsuits with his attorney, Peter Strojknik, representing Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID), an advocate group based in downtown Phoenix.
Ritzenthaler has filed 530 of 925 “parking lot” lawsuits since February.
Lindsay Leavitt, a Mesa attorney with Jennings, Strouss & Salmon, specializes in ADA compliance and said that nearly 1,300 ADA lawsuits were filed in the last year.
“ADA was a well-intentioned law, but I’m not sure that 1,300 lawsuits against small businesses is what they had in mind,” he said. “They want to negotiate a settlement and 42,000 letters have been sent out.”
Leavitt told Mesa business owners that if they receive a letter they need to respond immediately by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying, “I received your letter and if there are any violations I intend to bring my property to compliance.”
“By responding, you are protecting yourself under the law,” Leavitt told a room full of Mesa small business owners on July 7. “Time will tell if you’ll be sued, but that email will be exhibit one. Signage violations are the most common violations alleged by plaintiffs and the easiest to fix.”
Many of the violations noted involve signage and van accessibility. ADA compliance states that each ADA compliant accessible parking space must be properly marked with the international symbol of accessibility on a reflective sign and that the bottom of that sign must be a minimum of 60 inches above the ground.
As for van accessibility, there must be an appropriate number of properly marked accessible parking spaces that are labeled “Van Accessible” and they must be the correct size and the appropriate location in order to allow for a van to load or unload those with disabilities.
There is a “Safe Harbor Provision,” which is like a grandfathering clause and says that businesses don’t have to comply if they’ve repaved or restriped, or completed any other alterations to their parking lot before the latest 2010 standards went into effect.
The Mesa Chamber of Commerce has been leading the effort to inform local business owners of the issue by hosting last month’s meeting and organizing another for next week.
“We’re here to try and be supportive and to give businesses answers to their questions regarding this matter,” said Sally Harrison, president and CEO of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
John Moore, president and CEO of Marc Community Resources Inc. in Mesa, said his company is doing all it can to help local business owners.
“Since 1957 we have been providing services for people concentrated in Mesa and we represent 9,000 people in Maricopa County,” Moore said. “We strongly advocate for removing barriers for people to take advantage of public resources we all have the right to enjoy. We strongly prefer the businesses are given access to information and have time to comply because lawsuits harm everybody. We provide advocacy and try to remove stigmas for people with disabilities.”
Lesa Hunt, owner of Crismon’s Baby Boutique in Mesa, is being sued by Ritzenthaler and warns other Mesa business owners that the summons looks like junk mail.
“I want everybody to be aware of this,” Hunt said. “I’ve been in business since 1979 and I personally feel like Mesa has dropped the ball on what’s required after 2010 and that there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
Jim Shepard, a Mesa State Farm agent who attended last month’s informational meeting, said he has not yet been served, but that he has made arrangements to bring his office in compliance after attending the July 7 meeting because it offered valuable information to him.
The next informational meeting hosted by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce will be at 4 p.m. next Tuesday, Aug. 23, at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa, 200 N. Centennial Way.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at email@example.com.