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ADA Compliance for Agent Websites

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Larry M
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Recently, starting in the first quarter of 2020, some attorneys in South Florida have been blanketing Realtors across the State of Florida with demand letters and law suit threats about agent and broker Sites not being ADA compliant and/or violating Fair Housing Laws.

FAR (Florida Association of Realtors) have received so many calls and inquiries from members that they have put together a Webinar and other resources, and partnered with PrometSource to offer information and options to address this problem and help people make their Sites more accessible.

You can access a video of the Webinar here: https://www.floridarealtors.org/news-media/video-library/learning/ada-website-compliance-webinar-realtors

There are also automated evaluation tools available - some paid and some free. One of the best free ADA Compliance evaluation tools we've found is Wave.

A number of companies have also appeared in the last few years that offer overlay widgets that can improve your Sites accessibility, at different levels depending on which version you opt for. A few of the best ones we've found are: UserWay, EqualWeb, Max Access and AccessiBe. Some of these also offer full manual fixes and compliant Site building.

You can also learn more about the requirements with the WCAG Quick Referrence (Yes, this is the "quick" referrence, lol).

If you have a real estate Website, it's a good idea to start paying attention to accessibility, if you haven't already. The information above should help you get started.

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Larry M
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NAR (National Association of Realtors), after working closely with FAR (Florida Association of Realtors), has responded to The Portell Law Group, who is responsible for the vast majority of biolerplate demand letters sent to thousands of Realtors (mostly in Florida, but some outside as well) alleging that their Web Sites violate the Fair Housing Act.

Katie Johnson, General Counsel and Chief Member Experience Office for the National Association of Realtors sent a letter to Jennifer Portell, Esq., of the Portell Law Group in Washington, DC. In part, the letter states:

"It has come to our attention that you have sent hundreds of boilerplate letters to our members in Florida and Massachusetts on behalf of an organization called Access4All, Inc. alleging that they have violated the FHA and their respective state fair housing laws by having real estate brokerage websites that are allegedly not coded to be accessible to people with disabilities. In these letters, you claim that the websites have “barriers which denied full and equal access to information or services related to real estate services offered and made available to the public on the referred website.” It is our understanding that you have demanded monetary payments from our members to avoid being sued. This matter is concerning to NAR because NAR and its members take compliance with the FHA very seriously and we fear that these baseless threats undermine real efforts to advance fair housing for all.

As set forth below, we have significant concerns about the validity of your client’s claims as well as your compliance with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. Before we take further action, we would appreciate your response to our questions so we can determine appropriate next steps. In the meantime, we ask that you refrain from harassing our members with threats of litigation under the FHA because there is no basis for these claims."

And further:

"Frivolous Florida Fair Housing Act Claim. As stated above, you have sent to our members in Florida draft complaints in which your client, Access4All, Inc., asserts a claim under Section 760.23(3) of the Florida Fair Housing Act (“FFHA”). We find this curious because Section 760.34(1) of the FFHA makes clear that “any person who claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice” must first file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Such individuals may only file a lawsuit after administrative remedies have been exhausted, per Section 760.34(4). It is deeply troubling that you and your client would knowingly threaten to assert a claim that is patently frivolous in an attempt to extract a monetary payment from our members. Florida judges do not appreciate these tactics, as evidenced by the sanctions imposed in one case against attorney Scott Dinin who continued to include a Florida Civil Rights Act claim in his complaints even though that law, like the FFHA, requires the exhaustion of administrative remedies.2 

Questions Concerning Access4All, Inc. and the Portell Law Group. You claim to represent a non-profit group called Access4All, Inc. We have confirmed that you do not represent the Acess4All, Inc. that is registered in Florida. Where is your client registered and incorporated? Please provide the name and contact information of the leader of this organization so that we can verify its mission and membership.
We would also like to know the name of the Access4All, Inc. member on whose behalf Access4All, Inc. would be bringing suit, and if the individual has a sight disability. As you are aware, organizations only have standing to file suit if they have themselves been injured or they are suing on behalf of a member who has been injured. If Access4All, Inc. intends to assert standing based on injury to itself, please describe that injury.
We noticed that your letters to our members were sent from the D.C. office of the Portell Law Group located at 712 H Street Northeast, Unit #5050 - Washington, DC 20002. Can you please explain why these letters were sent from the D.C. office if you are not a member of the D.C. Bar?3
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In sum, there is no basis for your client to assert any claims under the FHA or the FFHA against our members, and they will zealously defend themselves with the full support of NAR should your client assert any such claims. We look forward to receiving responses to our questions."

It's good to know that our State and National Associations are addressing this ongoing problem and we will be keeping an eye on what happens next.

The full text of the letter is attached below as a PDF.

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