Q: Is a title company responsible for obtaining and paying for services at a closing settlement to assist customers with disabilities?
Answer: Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA requires real estate professionals and entities to provide effective communication to customers with vision, hearing or speech disabilities. Title III of the ADA prohibits places of “public accommodation” from discriminating against people with disabilities and generally includes businesses that are open to the public to provide goods or services.
In regards to the closing of a real estate transaction, the title company is providing services to the parties. If a party has a disability that would require additional steps to achieve effective communication during the closing, the title company must accommodate the party by providing auxiliary aid or services. This could include a sign language interpreter, assistive listening devices, oral interpreter, tactile interpreters for deaf-blind individuals or text based services. Public accommodations (the title company) must obtain and pay for any auxiliary aid or service necessary to achieve effective communication.
Effective communication will vary with each specific transaction and with each individual customer (i.e., the ADA does not guarantee the right to a sign language interpreter, but rather, to effective communication). If an interpreter is used, the interpreter must be “qualified”, which means they are capable of interpreting effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. The public accommodation should consult with individuals with disabilities whenever possible to determine what type of auxiliary aid is needed to ensure effective communication, but the ultimate decision lies with the public accommodation. The ADA does not require a public accommodation to furnish an auxiliary aid or service if it would constitute an undue burden, however, this is a tough standard to meet.
The title company should expect to obtain and pay for these services, considering it part of overhead (although there may be tax credits or deductions available for certain businesses). Any violations of the ADA could subject the title company to legal action and civil penalties.