Special Room for One: Booking Requirements Under The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 42 U.S.C. 12101, et. seq. provides clear requirements regarding how the hospitality industry needs to respond when a disabled person “books” a room. Violations of the ADA’s rules can result in litigation, an award of attorneys’ fees and negative publicity.
The ADA was enacted in 1990. Article II and III of the ADA are directed at the hospitality industry’s construction and “housing” of disabled Americans. In 2010, the ADA was amended to clarify a number of ambiguities given the rise in “on-line” reservations. The 2010 ADA amendments require hotels (and other places of “lodging”) to allow people with disabilities to make reservations for disabled accessible guest rooms during the same hours in the same manner as non-disabled guests. The amendments also require hotels to identify and describe the accessible features of the guest room. Reservations that require disabled persons to call the hotel’s front desk while non-disabled persons can book on-line, or fail to adequately describe the room’s accessible features (e.g. walk-in-shower, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, etc.) are deemed violations of the ADA.
The 2010 ADA amendments impose specific duties on hotels (and other places of lodging) after an accessible room has been booked. The ADA requires hotels to “hold back” the accessible guest rooms for people with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been booked and to ensure that a reserved accessible guest room is removed from all reservations systems (so that the accessible room is not released to someone other than the person who reserved the room). A hotel must hold an accessible room for the person who booked the room until they arrive. A hotel should not place a non-disabled person in an accessible room unless no other rooms of that type are available and no accessible room requests have been made for the same night.
The ADA provides for an award of attorneys’ fees and reasonable litigation expenses to the “prevailing party.” 42 USC §§ 12101 et. seq. A "prevailing party" is one who achieves a “substantial portion of relief” and who obtains an enforceable judgment against the defendant from whom the fees are sought. See, Heightened Independence & Progress, Inc. v. K. Hovnanian at Mahwah VI, Inc. 291 NJ Super 144, 676 A2d 1166 (1996), 17 ADD 674; see also, 42 USC § 12205.
The ADA delineates clear booking requirements. The hospitality industry must establish equally clear business practices for booking disabled persons’ rooms and for responding to accessible room reservations once they are received.