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Understanding Your Rights
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Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Americans  with Disabilities Act of 1990 --Title III-Public
Accommodations
Fair Housing Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
Frequently Asked Questions

SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or that receive financial assistance from HUD. Section 504 states that no otherwise qualified individual with handicaps in the United States shall, solely by reason of his or her handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).28

“Federal financial assistance” means any assistance provided or otherwise made available by the Department through any grant, loan, contract or any other arrangement, in the form of funds, services of Federal personnel, or real or personal property or any interest in or use of such property. It also includes community development funds in the form of proceeds from loans guaranteed under section 108 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, as amended.29

Most local housing authorities receive Federal financial assistance and, therefore, are covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In addition, privately operated, federally-subsidized apartment complexes or housing facilities fall under Section 504. Examples of housing programs to which HUD provides Federal financial assistance include public housing, project-based housing assistance programs, housing for persons with disabilities (Section 811), housing for the elderly (Section 202), and programs for the homeless.

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ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW CONSTRUCTION HOUSING FACILITIES

Under Section 504, new multi-family housing projects (including public housing projects) shall be designed and constructed to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps. A minimum of five percent (5%) of the total dwelling units or at least one unit in a multi-family housing project, whichever is greater, shall be made accessible for persons with mobility impairments. An additional two percent (2%) of the units (but not less than one unit) in such a project shall be accessible for persons with hearing or vision impairments.30 This applies to multi-family housing projects (containing five or more dwelling units31) that are designed, constructed, or altered after July 11, 1988.32

Accessible dwelling units shall, to the maximum extent feasible and subject to the reasonable health and safety requirements, be distributed throughout projects and sites and shall be available in a sufficient range of sizes and amenities so that a qualified individual with handicaps’ choice of living arrangements is, as a whole, comparable to that of other persons eligible for housing assistance under the same program.33

“Accessible,” when used with respect to the design, construction, or alteration of an individual dwelling unit, means that the unit is located on an accessible route and when designed, constructed, altered, or adapted can be approached, entered, and used by individuals with physical handicaps.34

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ALTERATIONS OF EXISTING HOUSING FACILITIES—Substantial alterations

If alterations are undertaken to a housing facility that has 15 or more units and the cost of the alterations is 75% or more of the replacement cost of the completed facility, then five percent of the total dwelling units or at least one unit, whichever is greater, shall be made accessible for persons with mobility impairments. An additional two percent of the units (but not less than one unit) shall be accessible for persons with hearing or vision impairments.35

"Alteration” means any change in a facility or its permanent fixtures or equipment. It includes, but is not limited to, remodeling, renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, changes or rearrangements in structural parts and extraordinary repairs. It does not include normal maintenance or repairs, reproofing, interior decoration, or changes to mechanical systems.36

“Facility” means all or any portion of buildings, structures, equipment, roads, walks, parking lots, rolling stock, or other real or personal property or interest in the property.37

NOTE:

This means Section 504 will apply if a landlord performs substantial rehabilitation to his apartments or common use areas using federal funds. The general rule is that if a landlord does any work where he/she could make the modifications without unreasonably increasing the cost of the project, the landlord should make them. For example, if a landlord paves the parking lot, he/she could take the opportunity to bevel the curb at a point near the path to the office door so that persons using wheelchairs can get by.38

ALTERATIONS OF EXISTING HOUSING FACILITIES—Other alterations

Alterations to dwelling units in a multi-family housing project (including public housing) shall, to the maximum extent feasible, be made to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps. If alterations of single elements or spaces of a dwelling unit, when considered together, amount to an alteration of a dwelling unit, the entire dwelling unit shall be made accessible.39

Once 5% of the dwelling units in a project are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with mobility impairments, then no additional elements of dwelling units, or entire dwelling units, are required to be accessible under this part of Section 504.40

“To the maximum extent feasible” shall not be interpreted as requiring that a recipient (including a Public Housing Authority) make a dwelling unit, common area, facility, or element thereof accessible if doing so would impose undue financial and administrative burdens on the operation of the multi-family housing project.41

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EXISTING HOUSING PROGRAMS

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that a recipient shall operate each existing housing program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance so that the program or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps.42 A recipient may comply with the requirements through such means as:

  1. reassignment of services to accessible buildings;
  2. assignment of aides to beneficiaries;
  3. provision of housing or related services at alternate accessible sites;
  4. alteration of existing facilities and construction of new facilities;
  5. or any other methods that result in making its programs or activities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps.43

Thus, if an apartment complex is a recipient of Federal financial assistance, the apartment complex must be operated so that is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps, when viewed in its entirety.

NOTE:

If an apartment complex is a recipient of Federal financial assistance, the apartment complex must be operated so that is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with handicaps, when viewed in its entirety. The landlord may comply with these requirements through the alteration of existing facilities. Therefore, if a disabled tenant lives in an apartment at the complex that is not accessible, the disabled tenant may, in most cases, request that management of the apartment complex reasonably accommodate him/her, due to his/her disability, by modifying the unit to make it accessible and not requiring him/her to pay for these modifications.

However, this does not require the recipient of federal funds to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. However, the recipient must take any action that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would nevertheless ensure that individuals with handicaps receive the benefits and services of the program or activity.44

COMMUNICATIONS

A housing facility that receives Federal financial assistance must take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with applicants, beneficiaries, and members of the public. The housing facility must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids where necessary to afford an individual with handicaps an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.45 “Auxiliary aids” means services or devices that enable persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills to have an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, programs or activities.46

In determining what auxiliary aids are necessary, the housing provider should give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with handicaps. In addition, where the housing provider communicates with applicants and beneficiaries by telephone, telecommunication devices for deaf persons (TDD’s) or equally effective communication systems shall be used. However, the housing provider does not have to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. Though, the housing provider must take another action that would nevertheless ensure that, to the maximum extent possible, individuals with disabilities receive the benefits and services of the program or activity receiving HUD assistance.47

OCCUPANCY OF ACCESSIBLE DWELLING UNITS

The owners and managers of multi-family housing projects having accessible units shall take reasonable nondiscriminatory steps to maximize the utilization of such units by eligible individuals whose disability requires the accessibility features of the particular unit. To this end, when an accessible unit becomes vacant, the owner or manager before offering such units to a non-handicapped applicant shall offer such unit:

  1. First, to a current occupant of another unit of the same project, or comparable projects under common control, having handicaps requiring the accessibility features of the vacant unit and occupying a unit not having such features, or, if no such occupant exists, then
  2. Second, to an eligible qualified applicant on the waiting list having a handicap requiring the accessibility features of the vacant unit;48

When offering an accessible unit to an applicant not having handicaps requiring the accessibility features of the unit, the owner or manager may require the applicant to agree (and may incorporate this agreement into the lease) to move to a non-accessible unit when available.49

HOUSING CERTIFICATE / VOUCHER PROGRAMS

When issuing a housing certificate or voucher to a family which includes an individual with handicaps, a Public Housing Authority (PHA) that administers a Section 8 housing certificate or voucher program shall include a current listing of available accessible units known to the Housing Authority and, if necessary, otherwise assist the family in locating an available accessible dwelling unit. In addition, the Housing Authority must take into account the special problem of ability to locate an accessible unit when considering requests by eligible individuals with handicaps for extensions of housing certificates or vouchers.50

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