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June 17, 2019

Does My Real Estate Website Need to Be ADA Compliant?

Author: Valerie Baker

If you’re a real estate agent, broker, property manager, or anyone in the real estate industry – your website is probably one of your most important marketing tools. We know that the web is one of the first places people go in order to search for products and services online, and when it comes to real estate, it’s usually where most people start. But, have you heard of ADA website compliance? ADA website compliance is a huge issue facing all businesses and websites today that could cause legal problems for you and your real estate website.

What is ADA Website Compliance?

As a digital agency that designs and develops websites, we have been talking about ADA web compliance a lot here at Atilus. But we understand not everyone is as familiar with the topic.

To put it simply, ADA refers to the American Disabilities Act, which requires all public spaces to be accessible to those with disabilities. This includes things like handicapped parking spaces, ramps, and bathrooms. In the past few years, websites have gotten businesses in legal trouble for having features that aren’t accessible to those with disabilities who use assistive technology such as screen readers or modified keyboards.

Although non-compliant websites are not technically illegal, if an individual with disabilities comes across your website and is unable to access certain features of it, they can sue on the basis of the ADA. Because most courts have interpreted websites to fall under the category of “public space” as defined in the ADA, most judges rule on the side of the plaintiff and companies have to either settle out of court or pay large fines.

How Does ADA Apply to Real Estate?

A specific example of real estate websites being subjected to an ADA lawsuit happened in New York at the end of 2018 with a company called Compass Real Estate. The plaintiff, who was blind, claimed that he was unable to find the location and hours of operation of Compass’s physical real estate sales office on its website, preventing them from visiting the location and being able to purchase or view items. The website did not have alt-text that made it accessible to screen reading software.

In most ADA compliance lawsuits we’ve seen, websites that are tied to specific features (like purchasing a product or signing up for a service – rather than simply accessing information), or linked to physical spaces are more likely to come under legal trouble. Aspects of real estate business – like online portals to pay rent online or access important documentation, are examples of this where accessibility is important to be addressed. A property management website that’s website is not accessible for a resident to make payments could open itself up to litigation based on a disabled resident being denied of public accommodation. Being able to view real estate listings is also another important feature of real estate websites that could be interpreted as discriminatory if it is not accessible.

What Do the Real Estate Experts Have To Say?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) supports the push for real estate agents and brokers to make their websites compliant in order to avoid litigation. The NAR even sent a letter to the Department of Justice directly expressing support for clear website accessibility standards for compliance with the American Disabilities Act. Although as a web company we know that the recommended standards are WCAG 2.0 AA, and that’s the standards we aim to reach for all our clients, there is a gray area surrounding what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to ADA web compliance for non-government businesses, particularly in real estate.

The MLS CEO, Shelley Specchio, has been talking about ADA web compliance as early as 2016 when she announced at the National Association of Realtors midyear conference that there had been a disability discrimination charge against the Northern Nevada Region MLS, and has urged others in the real estate industry to take the issue of ADA website compliance seriously. (Source)

So, Does My Real Estate Website Need to Be ADA Compliant?

As we’ve stated, ADA web compliance is not currently required by law for real estate agents or brokers, but you are taking a legal risk by having your website not be compliant. As previous cases have shown, real estate companies, including the MLS, have had disability discrimination lawsuits brought against them. With ADA compliance lawsuits on the rise, and inclusion for those of all levels of ability being especially important in the housing industry, we highly recommend making your real estate website ADA compliant today.

Work with A Digital Agency That Specializes In ADA Web Compliance

Atilus is a full-service digital agency based out of Southwest Florida that has the unique combination of expertise in creating real estate websites and ADA compliance. We have worked with many local agents, groups, and brokers on creating beautiful, easy to use websites to market themselves. We are also well-versed in the current standards of ADA web compliance and can create or update current real estate websites to be compliant.

Learn more about ADA compliance and contact us today!

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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