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Looking out for the little guy: City to help mom-and-pops meet accessibility codes after series of suits

Problem solver: Councilman Brad Lander, far right, worked with the city to create a program that educates small-business owners and helps them avoid lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act after a disabled resident sued more than a dozen Park Slope establishments since 2016.
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City officials launched a new program to protect small-business owners from lawsuits after an attorney representing a disabled man sued more than a dozen Park Slope mom-and-pop shops for violating a federal accessibility law, the nabe’s councilman announced on Oct. 27.

Proprietors can now invite experts from the Department of Small Business Services to their shops, where they will check for compliance issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act — which requires businesses meet certain standards in order to serve the disabled — and recommend fixes that may save owners thousands in legal fees and other penalties, according to a mayor’s office rep. The free program will help entrepreneurs address violations before they’re flagged in the form of litigation, said a lawyer familiar with the issue.

“I think a service like that, almost a beat ‘em to the punch type of service, is great,” said Vincent Wong, who represented Fifth-Avenue restaurant Pink Lotus Gourmet after it was sued under the disabilities act.

Councilman Brad Lander’s (D–Park Slope) announcement followed lawsuits filed by Queens resident Pedro Fontanes, who sued Pink Lotus Gourmet and at least 12 other Fifth-Avenue businesses since 2016, including Burger Bistro, Calexico, Culture American Yogurt Company, Hiroto Japanese Restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien, Luke’s Lobster, Nahm Thai Kitchen, Pick Quick Foods, Pizza Town, SkyIce, Uncle Barry’s, and Dizzy’s diner, which closed in August.

Suits like Fontanes’ often blindside small-business owners, according to Wong, who said the pressure of keeping their doors open can distract them from focusing on compliance issues.

“Most small businesses aren’t worrying too much about the ADA,” he said. “They’re worrying about having enough customers, and if their lease is worth putting their life savings into.”

Mom-and-pop proprietors can fight the lawsuits in front of a judge, but the cost in legal fees to do so can be ruinous, and most would rather settle out of court — even if the plaintiff’s lawyer collects most of the cash, according to another attorney familiar with the issue.

“Why would you pay me $25,000 when this guy is saying pay me $10,000 and it all goes away,” said Dennis Kearney, who represented Uncle Barry’s after it was sued. “These little guys get crushed on the fees, so it’s easier to throw cash at the plaintiffs.”

Slope shopkeepers and their advocates at the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District contacted Lander for help in response to Fontanes’ legal blitz, and the pol then sat down with officials from the city’s small-business agency and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to hash out a solution, according to a rep for the councilman.

Lander announced the new program less than two weeks after Fontanes died, according to his lawyer, who perversely claimed small-business owners targeted by his client should rejoice now that he can no longer sue them.

“Tell the defendants in this case that he passed away and can no longer bring law suits,” said Ismail Sekendiz. “They should celebrate his death.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:53 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

How's About NYC Following ADA Sidewalk Ramp from Brooklyn says:
All well and good, Council Member Lander...how about you give equal time & effort to scofflaw NYC which manages to find DOT money to build plazas but somehow cannot adhere to the ADA Law requiring it to install accessible ramps on all sidewalks.

The city is flouting Federal law-get on it -please!
Oct. 31, 2017, 9:54 am
Willis from Windsor Park says:
Brad Lander who has made a career fighting for the rights of the underdog now is against rights for those who are disabled. Sounds like a typical liberal hypocrite. However, fighting for illegals, minorities and Muslims in Lander's view is more important than the disabled, many of whom are vets who voluntarily served to protect our country. Instead Lander, Juuame Williams, Levine and most of the trash on the City Council, refused to stand for our Pledge of Allegiance during council meetings.
Oct. 31, 2017, 9:54 am
SCR from Realityville says:
So Brooklyn,NY"mom and pop"shop owners,are probably singing"Ding Dong-The Witch is Dead";as they learn about Fontane's Death. What a fitting story this is for today,Halloween!!
Oct. 31, 2017, 10:24 am
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Hey Willis -- how is someone "against rights for those who are disabled" when he's helping mom 'n' pops to comply with the ADA?
Oct. 31, 2017, 10:36 am
Voice from Of reason says:
Give these owners a grace period after a violation is registered. The only one benefiting is the scammer lawyer.
Oct. 31, 2017, 12:23 pm
Morris from Mill Basin says:
We should all throw in a helping hand! We are all neighbors of the world. LOVE!
Oct. 31, 2017, 12:55 pm
Bob from Brooklyn says:
Dear How's About NYC Following ADA Sidewalk Ramp from Brooklyn,

No doubt commenting here will move your cause forward. Haha!
Nov. 2, 2017, 6:03 pm
Bob from Brooklyn says:
Ed from Bay Ridge, that's some spin Willis put on this solution. He sounds like a typical illiberal hypocrite. Helping business owners not get sued by helping them comply with the law seems ideal to me.
Nov. 2, 2017, 6:10 pm
David Weinkrantz says:
The article states that the [plaintiff's] lawyer collects most of the cash.

My comments is that the ADA allows private plaintiffs to receive only injunctive relief (a court order requiring the public accommodation to remedy violations of the accessibility regulations) and attorneys' fees, but does not provide monetary rewards to private plaintiffs who sue non-compliant businesses.
Nov. 3, 2017, 1:51 pm

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