Author: Patti Werner, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago
Last updated: May 2013
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
What is it? This law is usually just called "Section 504." It prohibits discrimination based on your disability in any program or activity receiving federal funds, including residential programs. Under Section 504, no otherwise qualified person with a disability, solely by reason of disability, can be: (1) discriminated against in these programs or activities; (2) excluded from participating in them; or (3) denied their benefits.
What Is Its Purpose? To make sure those residential housing providers receiving federal funds do don’t discriminate against people with disabilities.
Who Can Be Helped by This Law? A person who is an "otherwise qualified individual with a disability" who seeks to participate in a residential housing program or activity that receives federal funds.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability. Under §504, whether a person has a disability is decided in exactly the same way it is decided under the ADA. See the section of this guidebook titled "Who Has A Disability Under the ADA?" in Chapter 1, General Considerations. If a person does not have a disability under the ADA, the person does not have a disability under §504.
For the definition and examples of "federal financial assistance," and "reasonable accommodation," and "otherwise qualified individual with a disability," see the section of this Guidebook titled "Are You an Otherwise Qualified Individual With a Disability Under §504 of the Rehabilitation Act" in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability in any public housing program receiving federal financial assistance. As to public housing, §504 overlaps with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. As such, a housing provider that receives federal funds 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 without disabilities.
See the section in this Chapter titled "Discrimination in the Sale, Rental and Use of Housing (Federal Law)." It also overlaps with Title II of the ADA. See the section of this Guidebook titled "State and Local Government Services," in Chapter 2, Access to Services, Programs and Activities.
An important feature 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. Because of that, 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. In addition, where housing serves older persons and persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities should not be segregated in one wing or building.
A federally 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 vouchers in payment for rent from a low income individual is not a recipient of federal financial assistance.
Community Residential Service Programs and Nursing Homes Receiving Federal Funds
Section 504 favors integrated, community-based treatment over institutionalization. Recipients of federal assistance are required to provide federally assisted services "in the most integrated setting appropriate" to the person's needs. Section 504, together with the ADA, have been the basis for several lawsuits against states for unnecessarily confining persons in institutions who could be served in the community.
A residential facility or agency receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against a person solely on the basis of disability. The facility may not discriminate against you when making decisions about such issues as whether to admit you, discharge you, or your placement within the facility.
The facility may have to make reasonable accommodations for those otherwise qualified individuals seeking access to such programs. Where such reasonable accommodations can be made, a provider's failure to integrate persons with severe disabilities may violate section 504.
Example: A nursing home that specializes in orthopedic rehabilitation may exclude a resident who requires ventilator care, but it cannot exclude a person who needs orthopedic rehabilitation because she is Deaf.
Section 504 applies to all types of zoning laws. Group homes or other types of congregate living arrangements are different from other homes in the community because they consist of persons with disabilities who are not related. Local governments may place reasonable limits on the maximum number of occupants permitted to live in a group home through zoning ordinances. A municipality discriminates in violation of Section 504 if it refuses to make changes to traditional rules or practices if necessary to permit a person with handicaps an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
(1) A law requiring that group homes obtain a special permit expressly singles out individuals with disabilities for special treatment may violate Section 504.
(2) A zoning requirement that a group home must provide 24-hour supervision may violate §504.
Private housing providers receiving federal funds (e.g., subsidized landlords) cannot discriminate against a tenant solely on the basis of disability. The prohibition against discrimination includes a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation. Whether an accommodation is reasonable involves a fact-specific, case-by-case inquiry that considers, among other factors, the effectiveness of the modification in light of the nature of the disability in question.
(1) A tenant has a stroke and begins to use a wheelchair. Her apartment has steps at the entrance and she needs a ramp to enter the unit. Her federally assisted housing provider pays for the construction of a ramp as a reasonable accommodation to the tenant's disability.
(2) A tenant with vision impairment requires a service animal. The landlord may be required to waive its no-pets policy to accommodate the tenant’s need.
Illinois receives federal funding to operate the Home Services Program, which provides in home care to persons with disabilities so that they will not need to be placed in an institution. Eliminating services that enable persons to with disabilities to live in community based settings may violate Section 504. Example:A state likely violated Section 504 when it discontinued an existing benefit to a person with a disability who, because of his age, was no longer eligible for that particular program, and the program for which he was eligible provided less assistance. See Chapter 11, Section 2, "The Home Services Program" for more information.
Illinois receives federal funding to operate the Home Services Program, which provides in home care to persons with disabilities so that they will not need to be placed in an institution. Eliminating services that enable persons to with disabilities to live in community based settings may violate Section 504.
Example:A state likely violated Section 504 when it discontinued an existing benefit to a person with a disability who, because of his age, was no longer eligible for that particular program, and the program for which he was eligible provided less assistance.
See Chapter 11, Section 2, "The Home Services Program" for more information.
If a residential program receiving federal funds has violated your rights under §504: You must be careful to take the proper steps to preserve and enforce your rights. Please see the section of this Guidebook titled "How to Protect or Enforce Your Rights Under §504 of the Rehabilitation Act" in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
Note:If you have been discriminated against in the sale or rental of a dwelling, you may need to enforce your rights under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. Please see the section in this Chapter titled "Discrimination in the Sale, Rental and Use of Housing."
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act can be found at 29 USC §794. The general regulations for §504 can be found at 28 CFR Part 41. Each agency that funds recipients with federal financial assistance has its own set of regulations. Those regulations concern complaints for violations of §504. Those agencies, and their regulations can be found in the section of this Guidebook titled "How to Protect or Enforce Your Rights Under §504 of the Rehabilitation Act" in Chapter 1, General Considerations.
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Table of Contents to The Guidebook of Laws and Programs for People with Disabilities
The Illinois Human Rights Act (State Law) Summary
How Supportive Federal Housing Programs Can Assist People with Disabilities
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