Answer: Federal and state fair housing laws require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for tenants with disabilities. Your condition appears to be a disability that should qualify you for these protections. However, you should be sure to present your request in a manner that brings you under the protection of these laws.
The reasonable accommodation request can be made several different ways, but a recommended method is to obtain a letter from your medical provider stating that you have a disability and that you need a reasonable accommodation in the form of moving to a ground-floor unit right now. Your medical provider is not required to provide detailed information about your medical condition; the provider need only state that you have a disability. You can then present this letter with your written request for the accommodation.
Once you present this request, the housing provider must engage you in an interactive process to determine whether the accommodation can be made. For example, if there is a unit available on the ground floor, your landlord must consider whether this move is reasonable. The existence of a current lease is not a basis to refuse to consider your request if the details of the move can be agreed upon, for example, addressing potentially different rental rates. Contact your local fair housing agency for more information and assistance with your request, including help working with the landlord to negotiate the specific rental issues that will need to be resolved.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.