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Is Cancer a Disability? Yes and No.

High-rise Apartment Does a cancer patient with a second floor apartment have a right to move to a first floor apartment, if one is open? A recent LA Times real estate column answers a letter from a tenant facing just that situation.

The tenant was undergoing chemotherapy, and began suffering side effects of dizziness and exhaustion. The tenant's doctor suggested that a ground floor unit might reduce the chance of injury. The tenant asked the property manager for permission to move to a first floor unit that happened to be open at the time. The manager refused the request, explaining that the tenant still had three months to go on the current lease.

You may be thinking, Whoa, that manager just bought herself—and the owner of her building—one heckuva a lawsuit. That's certainly possible. The tenant's request sounds like a reasonable accommodation for a legitimate disability. The Times' columnist, Martin Eichner, did point out, however, that a tenant in this kind of situation needs to present her request in writing, along with a supporting letter from a medical care provider.

In other words, simply claiming a disability and requesting accommodation, without any documentation, probably won't trigger the protections offered by the ADA or similar state laws. The medical care provider's letter can be pretty basic, however. The law doesn't require that the provider explain the nature of the disability, for example. The letter simply has to indicate that a disability exists and describe what accommodation is needed. That way, the patient's privacy is protected.

But let's think about this situation a little more... What if the downstairs unit was larger, cost $100 more a month, and the disabled tenant was on a fixed income and couldn't afford the higher rent? Or what if the medical care provider was a massage therapist or an acupuncturist or someone else outside the traditional medical establishment? Do you think this would change the result?

These situations can get a lot more complicated than you might imagine!

Remember, Rockwell Institute is always happy to answer your questions about real estate training.