Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives financial assistance from any federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as in programs conducted by federal agencies including HUD.
What discriminatory practices does Section 504 prohibit?
Answer: Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program, service, or activity that receives federal financial assistance. This means, for example, that persons with disabilities may not be denied the opportunity to participate in a program, service, or activity; may not be required to accept a different kind or lesser program or service than what is provided to others, and may not be required to participate in separate programs and services, even if separate programs and services exist. In general, with respect to housing, it means that a housing provider may not deny or refuse to sell or rent to a person with a disability, and may not impose application or qualification criteria, rental fees or sales prices, and rental or sales terms or conditions that are different than those required of or provided to persons who are not disabled. Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to live only on certain floors, or to all live in one section of the housing. Housing providers may not refuse to make repairs, and may not limit or deny someone with a disability access to recreational and other public and common use facilities, parking privileges, cleaning or janitorial services, or any services which are made available to other residents. People with disabilities may not be denied the opportunity to serve on planning or advisory boards because of their disabilities.
Does Section 504 require a housing provider to accept every person with a disability who applies for the housing?
Section 504 does not require that a person with a disability be accepted without regard to eligibility requirements or his or her ability to meet standard, nondiscriminatory tenant selection and screening criteria. Rather, Section 504 requires that a person with a disability be evaluated using the same objective criteria that are applied to persons without disabilities. Applicants, with or without a disability, may be rejected if they have a record of adversely affecting others such as disturbing neighbors, destroying property, or failing to pay their rent on time. However, under Section 504, the housing provider must make sound and reasonable judgments based on objective evidence (current conduct or a history of overt acts). Subjective fears, unsubstantiated rumors, speculation and generalized suspicion do not constitute objective information that an applicant cannot meet the terms of tenancy.
May a recipient refuse to rent to a person with a mental disability because he is uncomfortable with the individual?
No. Section 504, and related laws like the Fair Housing Act, make it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent to a person simply because of a disability. Therefore, a housing provider may not refuse to rent to an otherwise eligible individual because of fears or concerns that may be based on myths or stereotypes about persons with mental disabilities.
May a landlord charge a person who uses a wheelchair a higher security deposit because of concerns about damage to the dwelling unit?
No. A wheelchair user is no more likely than anyone else to cause damage, beyond typical wear and tear, to a dwelling unit. However, if a person who uses a wheelchair does cause damage to a unit that is beyond normal wear and tear, whether the damage is related to the wheelchair or not, that individual may be required to cover such damage out of a standard security deposit that is charged to everyone.
What limits does Section 504 impose on the ability of federally assisted housing providers to require persons with disabilities to live in "segregated housing," i.e., housing for elderly and/or disabled individuals.
Section 504 limits housing providers from providing, or requiring persons with disabilities to accept, housing that is different or separate, and instead, requires that housing programs be integrated and offer the same benefits as provided to persons without disabilities, with only a few limited exceptions. These exceptions are (1) when it can be demonstrated that such segregation is necessary in order to provide persons with disabilities housing that is as effective as housing that is provided to others, or (2) when authorized by a Federal statute, such as the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, or the Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Persons With Disabilities. Even under these programs, however, there are suggested options for providing the program in an integrated setting, such as scattered site units.
What must a federally assisted housing provider consider to assure that housing is provided in the most integrated setting appropriate?
One of the basic tenets of Section 504 is that programs and services be conducted in the most integrated setting appropriate. In terms of housing, this means that the housing provided to disabled individuals is not separate or unnecessarily segregated. In other words, accessible units in a single elevator building should be located throughout the building, and not just on the first floor. In projects having multiple buildings, accessible units also should be interspersed throughout these buildings, rather than in just one or two buildings. For example, in housing serving elders and persons with disabilities, persons with mental disabilities or any other disabilities may not be segregated on any one wing, floor, or in one building.
What steps must recipients take to ensure that information about their programs and services, and their communications with applicants and program participants, are accessible?
The Section 504 regulations require recipients to take steps to ensure effective communication with applicants, beneficiaries, and members of the public (24 CFR 8.6). This may include, but is not limited to, conducting outreach in a manner that will reach persons with disabilities, such as by working with State and local organizations that serve or represent persons with disabilities, and ensuring that information about their programs is disseminated in a manner that is accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, special communication systems (e.g., TTY for persons who are hearing or speech impaired, materials on tape or in Braille) can greatly increase the effectiveness of outreach and ongoing communication.
How are recipients supposed to deal with the following fire emergency issues in a high-rise building: (1) If a HUD recipient cannot control where persons with disabilities live, during a fire, how do these tenants escape from a 14th floor unit? (2) If a HUD recipient cannot give out a list of where persons with disabilities live, how do rescue teams know where to go?
The recipient must permit the applicant to take responsibility for his/her own safety. Thus, an applicant with a disability may choose not to live above the ground floor because of possible inability to escape a fire. On the other hand, the applicant must be allowed to decide whether the opportunity to live in a 14th floor dwelling unit outweighs whatever safety concerns may exist.
Every HUD recipient should have an emergency evacuation plan for each of its buildings. In the preparation and updating of this plan, the HUD recipient should inform residents that with the resident's consent, they will provide information to the fire department which identifies residents with special needs in case of an emergency evacuation. Applicants should be given the opportunity to decide whether they want the recipient to provide this information to the fire department. The HUD recipient may share this information with the local fire and police departments provided consent is given.
What happens if providing a requested accommodation involves some costs on the part of the federally assisted housing provider?
Section 504 requires that in making an accommodation, a federally assisted housing provider will be required to bear costs which do not amount to an undue financial and administrative burden. In application, this means that such a housing provider may be required to spend money to provide legally required reasonable accommodations.
Must a federally assisted housing provider adopt
formal procedures for processing requests for a reasonable accommodation?
No. Section 504 does not require that a housing provider adopt any formal procedures that an applicant for housing or a tenant must follow to request a reasonable accommodation. However, having such a procedure will probably aid both the individual in making the request and the housing provider in assessing it and responding to it in a timely fashion.
Is a federally assisted housing provider obligated to provide an accommodation to a tenant or applicant if s/he has not requested it?
No. Such a housing provider is only obligated to provide an accommodation if s/he is on notice of the request. However, a person with a disability will be considered to have asked for an accommodation if s/he indicates that a change or exception to a policy, practice, or procedure or a modification would assist him or her in making more effective use of his or her housing, even if the words "reasonable accommodation" are not used as part of the request.
With respect to Section 504's requirements, what
is an accessible unit?
The Section 504 regulations define an accessible dwelling unit as a unit that is located on an accessible route and can be approached, entered, and used by individuals with physical disabilities. A unit that is on an accessible route and is adaptable and otherwise in compliance with the standards set forth in 24 CFR 8.32 is accessible. In addition, the Section 504 regulations impose specific accessibility requirements for new construction and alteration of housing and non-housing facilities in HUD assisted programs. Section 8.32 of the regulations states that compliance with the appropriate technical criteria in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), or a standard that is equivalent to or stricter than the UFAS, is an acceptable means of meeting the technical accessibility requirements in Sections 8.21, 8.22, 8.23 and 8.25 of the
Section 504 regulations.
Question: What accessibility requirements must a new federally assisted housing development meet in order to be in compliance with Section 504 requirements?
For a federally assisted new construction housing project, Section 504 requires 5% of the dwelling units, or at least one unit, whichever is greater, to meet UFAS or a standard that is equivalent or stricter, as explained in the question and answer above this one, for persons with mobility disabilities. An additional 2% of the dwelling units, or at least one unit, whichever is greater, must be accessible for persons with hearing or visual disabilities.
When a wheelchair accessible unit becomes
available should it be offered to the first applicant on the waiting list,
or the first person with a disability who requires the accessible features?
HUD's Section 504 regulations at 24 CFR 8.27 require recipients to take reasonable steps to assure that information on available accessible units reaches otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities who need the features of those units. The regulations provide that whenever a unit that meets the requirements of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for a mobility-impaired person becomes available for occupancy, a recipient shall first offer the unit to a qualified individual with disabilities currently residing in a non-accessible unit in the same project or comparable projects, under common control, who requires the accessible features. If there are no such persons currently residing in the recipient's projects, the recipient shall then offer the unit to the next available qualified individual with disabilities on its waiting list, provided that the person requires the accessibility features of the unit. The recipient shall skip over non-disabled applicants on the waiting list to offer the unit to the next qualified individual who requires the unit's accessibility features.
If no qualified applicant with disabilities requires the accessible features of a unit, and the recipient places a family where none of the family members have disabilities in that unit, the recipient may include language in the lease requiring this family to agree to move to a non-accessible unit, as soon as one becomes available that otherwise meets the family's needs.