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SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973 AND THE HOUSING RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, often simply called “Section 504,” is a federal law that nationwide prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in housing-related programs, services, or activities conducted by HUD or that otherwise receive federal financial assistance – that is, that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or any federal department or agency. The definition of “federal financial assistance” under Section 504 is not limited to funding.  It means any grant, loan, contract, or any other arrangement by which a federal department or agency makes assistance available also as human (services of federal personnel) or physical (buildings or land) resources.

 

Section 504’s Protection and Definition of a Person with a Disability

 

Section 504 protects qualified individuals with disabilities and defines individuals with disabilities as persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.  People who have a history or, or who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, are also covered.  Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning.  Some examples of impairments which may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication or aids/devices:  AIDS, alcoholism, blindness or visual impairment, cancer, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease, and mental illness.

 

Section 504’s Prohibitions

 

Not only does Section 504 outlaw disability-motivated discrimination expressed as exclusion from a federally-subsidized housing program, service or activity.  It also aims to prevent and, where it exists, to eliminate another traditional form of housing discrimination on the basis of disability:  segregation.  Thus, Section 504 prohibits the denial of a federally-funded apartment or house to an otherwise qualified buyer or renter because of a disability of that buyer or renter or another prospective tenant (that is, someone who will live with him or her), and bans the imposition of application or qualification criteria, rental fees or sales prices, and rental or sales terms or conditions that are different than those required or provided to person who are not disabled.

Equally importantly, Section 504 prohibits requiring persons with a disability to accept a different kind or lesser program or service than what is provided to others, and requiring them to participate in separate programs and services, even if separate programs and services exist.  For another example, housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to live only on certain floors, or to all live in one section of the housing.  In short, Section 504 makes it illegal to provide federally-subsidized programs or services to persons with disabilities in settings that are unnecessarily separate or restricted.

 

A key component of Section 504’s overarching goal of creating equal housing opportunity for persons with disabilities is the law’s removal of barriers through the obligatory promotion and implementation of programmatic and architectural accessibility.  Therefore, under Section 504 housing providers who are recipients of federal assistance must take steps, as needed, to ensure that existing housing programs are readily accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, and develop and implement a transition plan to ensure compliance.  To this end, Section 504 mandates that recipients of federal assistance provide reasonable accommodations (for example, readers, sign-language interpreters, and materials in accessible formats), with certain limitations, which may be necessary for a person with a disability to use or participate in a housing-related program, service, or activity.

 

In addition, recipients of federal assistance are required under Section 504 to ensure that all new construction of housing facilities is readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, and meets the requirements of applicable accessibility standards.  They must also ensure that that substantial alterations, when undertaken, meet the requirements for new construction.

 

The definition of “recipient” in Section 504’s regulations includes, for example any State or its political subdivision (such as a county, city, town, or village), any public or private agency, institution, or organization to which federal financial assistance is extended for any program or activity directly or through another recipient.  However, the ultimate beneficiary of the assistance is not a “recipient” for the purpose of Section 504.  Thus, a HUD-funded public housing authority, or a HUD-funded non-profit developer of low-income housing is a recipient of federal financial assistance and is subject to Section 504’s requirements.  However, a private landlord who accepts Section 8 tenant-based voucher in payment for rent from a low-income individual is not a recipient of federal financial assistance.

 

TO REPORT A VIOLATION OF YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE FAIR HOUSING ACT OR TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FHA, CONTACT HUD’S HOUSING DISCRIMINATION HOTLINE AT 1-800-669-9777(VOICE) OR 1-800-927-9275 (TTY).

 

REFERENCES:

 

  • “Key Provisions and Regulations Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” www.hud.gov
  • “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” www.fairhousingrights.org
  • “Section 504:  Frequently Asked Questions,” www.lcha.ws
  • “What ‘Fair Housing’ Means for People with Disabilities,” Bazelton Center for Mental Health Law, June 2006