Medical MetaTax Advice
June 8, 2005 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Tax day is now long-gone. But I hoped that any and all tax-savvy Metafilts might know what I'm trying to know. Is residential rent- or some portion thereof- deductible if moving to a first-floor unit is required for medical reasons? Read on for specs...

I have a spinal curvature that interferes with my day-to-day life by making relatively minor stresses and strains painful. I currently live in a fourth-floor walk-up, and everyday activities- such as hauling groceries, post-travel suitcases, and even my bags of recycling and garbage- up and down the stairs have become painful, and can trigger muscle spasms that lay me low for large chunks of time.

An apartment on the first floor has opened up in my building, and living there would take a lot of stress off my back. But: I live in a high-rent metropolitan area, and despite the fact that I have a wonderful old-school landlord who keeps the rent in my building unusally low, the first-floor apartment is $200 more a month than my current one. I already do a lot of scraping to get by, and this would be a real stretch for me.

If I can get documentation of my condition from my orthopedic surgeon, and his offcial reccomendation that moving to the first floor would help immensely, and have scary x-rays to show the IRS auditors who come to break down my door in the middle of the night, can I claim the difference in rent between the two apartments as a medical deduction on my taxes?

I've searched the web on this one, and can only find answers that dance around the question. Any illumination of specific yesses and nos would be so, so helpful.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Work & Money (5 answers total)
My initial reaction was that the increased rent would not be deductible, and a bit of research bears this out. There are not many cases on point, but in one case the Supreme Court said that rent paid on an apartment for a patient who spends the winter in Florida on the advice of his doctor was not deductible. You could argue that the facts in your situation are distinguishable, but I think you would be unlikely to prevail in the event of an audit.

If you had to pay for special modifications to your apartment, that sort of expense would be deductible, but in your situation, the IRS would likely see it as you paying more for an apartment that's more valuable because of the market, even if you're moving to it for health reasons.
posted by anapestic at 11:14 AM on June 8, 2005

Also, you might not get much of a deduction. The total increase is only $2,400 and the standard deduction is about $5,000. Do you have other deductions? Also, only those medical expenses which exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income are deductible. So unless you already have many other medical deductions most if not all of this wouldn't be deductible anyway. I would guess that the IRS disallow this if you were ever audited and if the case law is as lacking as anapestic makes out I cannot imagine you would be too successful in fighting them on it.
posted by caddis at 12:23 PM on June 8, 2005

While I don't think the rent would be deducted, the moving expenses might be. Probably not what you wanted to hear but I think that is how it would go. Sorry...
posted by pwb503 at 1:00 PM on June 8, 2005

Thank you- this is great advice. My medical expenses- with the rent increase- would narrowly edge out the standard deduction. But as you all know, if it's a toss-up, better to take the standard deduction instead of raising the IRS's eyebrows.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:51 PM on June 8, 2005

Personally, I'd take a shot at it. From IRS Publication 907 (Tax Highlights For Persons With Disabilities), page 6:

Medical expenses include payments you make for the
diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of
disease and for treatment affecting any part or function of
the body. They also include the cost of transportation for
needed medical care and payments for medical insurance.

You can deduct only the part of your medical and
dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your adjusted
gross income shown on Form 1040, line 37.

The following list highlights some of the medical expenses
you may have for special items and equipment
related to a disability. For more detailed information, see
Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.


Improvements to a home that do not increase its
value if the main purpose is medical care. An example
is constructing entrance or exit ramps.

It's not clear cut, but I think you might have a reasonable argument that you would qualify. Two things that might work against you: One, you haven't been diagnosed (as far as I know) as "disabled" by your doctor. Two, the basic push back would be that you could move to a ground floor place in a cheaper area. Alas, you'll simply have to show why those two aren't good reasons to reject your request for relief.

Since I'm fairly certain no one who has responded works for the IRS (myself included), then it's probably a wise thing to simply go see them, talk through what you're thinking, and ask for their opinion. You can find your local office here. You know this already, but: Don't go in looking for a fight--the people you'll be dealing with don't set policy, they simply help people understand it. They're simply underpaid, overworked government employees.

Good luck, and let us know how it works out!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:30 AM on June 9, 2005

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