Accessible Business Entrance Program
Effective May 22, 2016, the Accessible Business Entrance Program requires any building with a “place of public accommodation” to have primary entrances and entrance routes into the building accessible to people with disabilities.
If your business serves the public, your property owner must comply with a new local disability access ordinance. Businesses should review the information on this webpage for information on how this ordinance might impact you.
Ordinance No. 51-16 (Mandatory Disability Access Improvement) was passed by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016 to improve disability access to goods and services at San Francisco businesses and help property owners and businesses better comply with state and federal accessibility laws. Barriers to accessible entrances include steps to entryways, door handles requiring grasping or twisting of the wrist, sloping or narrow doorways and uneven flooring.
As a San Francisco Building Code addition, the Accessible Business Entrance Program is administered by the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) in consultation with the Planning Department for historic preservation, the Department of Public Works (DPW) for sidewalk modifications, the Access Appeals Commission for unreasonable hardship requests and the Office of Small Business for resources and assistance to small businesses.
Compliance is the responsibility of the property owner. However, the ordinance does not alter existing lease agreements between property owners and tenants. Property owners should review our ABE Guide for Property Owners before exercising any lease provisions in order to understand property owner obligations under the ABE, and in accordance with other federal, state and local access laws.
Small Business Support Services
OSB offers support services (handout) for small businesses who need help complying with the ABE. We assess each business’ situation on a case-by-case basis to determine the proper steps forward and connect with other departments involved. Does your landlord require you to comply? Contact OSB for help.
- Individualized case management to navigate compliance.
- Clarity on compliance procedures, timelines and forms.
- Explain property owner vs. tenant responsibilities.
- Financial and legal resources (ADA tax credits, lease review services, financial assistance).
- Identify a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) or design professional to survey entryway and work with for remediation
- Navigate overlay of ABE with federal and state accessibility laws.
TIP: Small businesses should review their lease agreements for accessibility and code compliance provisions to anticipate any unforeseen financial obligations. Review our ABE Guide for Small Businesses.
Compliance is required for buildings that have places with public accommodation. Generally speaking, a place of public accommodation is a business offering goods and services directly to the public in which members of the public enter the establishment. Public accommodations include retail food establishments, restaurants, bars, retail stores, dry cleaners, hotels, laundromats, day care centers, gas stations and hair salons.
A place of public accommodation is a facility whose operations affect commerce and fall within at least one of the following 12 categories.
- Unsure whether your business is a place of public accommodation or exempt? Call the Department of Justice ADA phone line at 1-800-514-0301.
There are four exemptions to the ordinance: (1) Newly constructed buildings built on or after 2002; (2) Buildings or businesses owned and operated by religious organizations; (3) “Bona fide” private clubs; and (4) Buildings in which all businesses are not public accommodations. Property owners of exempt buildings should complete the Pre-Screening Form and submit to DBI.
Review the criteria for qualification of the Waiver Form here.
When a property owner is unable to remove barriers due to technically infeasibility or unreasonable hardship, an application and narrative justifying the request can be submitted to DBI and the Access Appeals Commission. In those cases, an alternate method of providing goods and services to persons with disabilities is required.
For buildings with a place of public accommodation, the property owner must hire a California licensed design professional (Architect or Engineer) or Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to inspect the primary entries and fill out the Category Checklist Compliance Form. The property owner must submit the completed form to DBI by the appropriate deadline based on the compliance category.
With the exception of Category I, the property owner must apply for required building permit(s) to correct non-compliant elements within 90 days of submitting the checklist and building permit(s) must be obtained within a year of the permit application. As part of the permit process, a plan must be submitted for coming into compliance.
Visit the Department of Building Inspection’s Accessible Business Entrance Program webpage for information about the ordinance, steps to compliance and resources for property owners and tenants. DBI’s Information Sheet DA-17 provides an overview of the ordinance and required forms for compliance. Property owners should contact DBI directly for questions:
Department of Building Inspection
1660 Mission Street, 1st Floor, Visit Window #8
Property owners can refer to the following resource for help finding a CASp, Database of CASp Inspectors Serving San Francisco. Be sure to shop around to find one that fits your needs and budget. This person should be familiar with San Francisco Building Code (DBI) historic preservation (Planning Department) and sidewalks modifications (SF Public Works). Visit our handout on tips for selecting a CASp here.
Remember, although this ordinance is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure the entryway is accessible, ADA accessibility is a shared responsibility between the property owner and tenant. Small businesses can go a long way toward minimizing risk and limiting exposure to lawsuits by taking proactive steps to assess the inside of their business for barriers. Businesses should create a roadmap to accessibility starting with consulting a CASp inspector and remediating any areas of non-compliance. The worst thing for a business to do is nothing. Don’t let yourself be blindsided by a lawsuit. The majority of people who sue for ADA non-compliance are serial litigants and drive-by lawsuits who generally sue for readily achievable upgrades.
Visit our dedicated ADA Resources page for resources to bring your business into compliance with ADA laws, including tips to selecting a CASp inspector and our list of CASp inspectors serving San Francisco businesses.