Are obese people a protected class?

21 Replies

While replying to another thread about family size, I was reminded of two separate incidents regarding size of another nature.

The first was a few years ago when I showed a vacant 2BR/1BA house to woman who had called and asked about the property.  When she arrived at the house, she was extremely overweight, probably around 350 at least.  Her husband was also rather large.  Then noticed the two young adult daughters in the van who would also be living in the house and they were very overweight too.  I wondered if my little bathroom could handle such weights on a constant basis.  The couple liked the place a lot, but ended up declining because they didn't like the utility room where the W/D connections were located.

A second incident was when I rented that same small property to a young single man who was well over 400 pounds.  I questioned again if my little bathroom was up to the challenge, but was very pleased with the guy overall, so the lease was signed and he moved in.  A few months into the tenancy, he complained of a very high water bill.  A plumber looked at the relatively new toilet and said he had to repair something that had come loose and caused a non-stop leak.  I reminded the tenant to call me immediately if he hears a leak.  Near the one-year mark, the tenant had to be hospitalized for a weight-related ailment and ended up moving out.  He moved out immediately (actually he went to the hospital immediately, then moved in with his mother because he would need to have a caregiver in the house with him) but he paid for the following month to make sure I had 30-days notice.  As I was checking out the otherwise clean place, I realized the toilet was wobbly.  Bottom line, his weight had loosened the floor screws, damaged the flange, and water had been leaking into the subfloor and had damaged the subfloor.  Basically, he was too heavy to sit and rise with ease, so he PLOPPED down to sit and ROCKED himself back and forth to stand. It was a $450 repair overall.

So, now I'm wondering if obesity is a protected class.  I don't want to automatically eliminate obese people, but I'm curious.

Randy...It is protected and you cannot discriminate because of weight, color, religion, class, sexual orientation and all the rest But what you can do like we have done is set a list of qualifications and make sure everyone gets a background and credit check and make sure that everyone who rents from you is treated the same they must be able to pass the background check. I just posted this story in an other forum on biggerpockets. a guy calls interested in one of our apts, we send him to our web site where all of our qualifications are listed. he makes an appointment to view the apt very clean cut guy brings his application with the $35 bucks and pulls up in an very well kept older BMW makes $50k a year and single I want this guy as a tenant. we do the background check and it is one of those OMG moments 14 pages of felony convictions and a few evictions 32 felony's in total. so bad I was thinking omg i was alone in the apt with this guy. so don't worry about the how heavy people are just be diligent with qualifications   

I am not aware of obesity being a protected class... Steven do you have any evidence of this?

After an overweight couple moved out I noticed the toilet leaking and the bowl loose, flange damaged.  The toilet had to be replaced.   Not surprising.

It is possible that they are protected in your area. I believe that just being obese may not be enough to protect them they may qualify for disability and that protect them. 

Only suggestion would when replacing or repairing toilets reinforce them to handle the extra weight. I have a few units that are going to have bathroom rehabs, after reading this I'm going to make sure that the toilets are reinforced. I mean I rent properties in Wisconsin.

From http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=a2bc...

Currently, Michigan is the only state that has enacted legislation that explicitly prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of a person’s weight. In addition, six cities in the United States have enacted similar laws – Urbana, IL; Madison, WI; Santa Cruz and San Francisco, CA; Washington, D.C; and Binghamton, NY.

While there is no federal statute that specifically identifies obese individuals as a protected class, employees and job applicants across the country have initiated lawsuits alleging disability discrimination on the basis of their weight.

It depends on your state I suppose. I just applied for my DC license and had to do a Fair Housing class. In DC they are very specific about discrimination - and if I remember correctly, there are 17 protected classes. You can't discriminate against personal appearance and I suppose being obese will fall under this category. 

Corey, 

In NY you cannot reject a person on there appearance and that includes weight. Put it this way if you say i am going to reject anyone who is not white or reject anyone who is bald it would be the same law that protects a person from being rejects for being bald as being rejected for weight. don't get me wrong you can find something else to reject him for do so if you so desire but you better be treating everyone you rent to the same or that's how you get into court 

Originally posted by @Randy E. :

toilet was wobbly.  Bottom line, his weight had loosened the floor screws, damaged the flange, and water had been leaking into the subfloor and had damaged the subfloor.  Basically, he was too heavy to sit and rise with ease, so he PLOPPED down to sit and ROCKED himself back and forth to stand. It was a $450 repair overall.

Umm, no. It's not actually as nice as that. I have the same problem with a couple of tenants. They actually broke the bottom of the first toilet off. Spoke to a PM friend of mine, who had had similar experiences. We do not know if this is true, feel free to disagree:

Essentially, really fat people have a lot of difficulty passing waste when sitting on the toilet. Because of their size, their gut isn't as 'streamlined' as say a normal weighted person.

And because the gut isn't streamlined, they have to 'manipulate' the waste through themselves.

And this involves them rocking around on the toilet, trying to push the waste down a largely compromised bowel. So they rock back and forth on the seat, eventually loosening the bolts (or in our case, breaking the toilet off the bolts).

My first thought was this can't be legal.  But, as I've thought about it, I think it is legal.

You can discriminate against any class of people, who aren't on the protected class list.  Smokers, lawyers...  So, it would stand to reason that you can discriminate against obese people, especially if you do it across the board and you can justify it if you need to.

Technically, you don't have to justify it.  But, if it just so happens that all the applicants who are obese in your tenant pool happen to also have large families, or are all of a certain race or source of income or whatever IS a protected class - then you will need to justify it to fair housing if there's a complaint.

Even with obese people now being classified as disabled, wouldn't that mean you could still require them to "modify" your unit to, for instance, a bariatric toilet, and then modify it back to normal, or be able to hold them responsible for any damage they do to the regular toilet or plumbing if caused by their weight?  I know you cannot forbid a disabled person from modifying a unit if required for their disability, but are you allowed to hold them accountable for the damage done if they don't do the modification and damage your properlty?  I think I'd have to research that.  

ALWAYS ALWAYS check the fair housing laws for your state, county and city. They can differ dramatically. 

The Fair Housing Act has 7 protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Your state may add more, your county even more and your city more yet. 

One thing to always remember is that if they are fat enough to be sick, it does not matter what your regulations say they fall under a federally protected class twice over. The Fair Housing Act protects the disabled and the Americans With Disabilities Act protects the disabled. This is defined by any "disability" that impairs normal functioning and that the person must take medication or treatment for. This is an extremely wide law that covers everything from diabetes to food addiction to you name it. 

Do the background checks, make the qualifications and rules clear and disclose them to all interested parties. Above all else do not ever waver from your routine for anyone. 

With certain areas of the country you're going to have more issues than others. I've started reinforcing toilets and the floors as well as putting grab bars in showers as part of my normal rehab routine. 

Originally posted by @Zech Ehnert :

... after reading this I'm going to make sure that the toilets are reinforced. I mean I rent properties in Wisconsin.

 Yep, I've been to Wisconsin, lol.

But I have experienced the shearing off of the toilet here in Colorado too, which I hear is the fittest state in the country based on statistics. I'm not sure what type of reinforcement one could do? I bet in the next few years we start seeing toilets on the market that are specifically designed for this.

To be clear, I have never run into this issue. I was just pointing out that I haven't heard of obese people as a protected class.

However, I will say that many businesses and hospitals are starting to replace wall-mounted toilets with floor-mounted toilets in public bathrooms. Why? Because people are so heavy they are gradually destroying the wall-mounted ones.

Originally posted by @Jean Bolger :
Originally posted by @Zech Ehnert:

... after reading this I'm going to make sure that the toilets are reinforced. I mean I rent properties in Wisconsin.

 Yep, I've been to Wisconsin, lol.

But I have experienced the shearing off of the toilet here in Colorado too, which I hear is the fittest state in the country based on statistics. I'm not sure what type of reinforcement one could do? I bet in the next few years we start seeing toilets on the market that are specifically designed for this.

I don't like touching a toilet twice. If I install it, that's it for me. I'm in a position that most people won't be. I'm going to be gutting all of the bathrooms in my 4 unit as the current tenants vacate. At that point I plan on going down to the sub-floor and depending on the condition of that we may take that up. at that time I may run studs along the flange and bolt the toilet to that. I plan on using metal washers rather than the plastic ones they come with it. Then I'll shim the toilet so it won't rock then caulk around it.

If I couldn't do that, I'd use the metal washers, get some locking nuts and shim and caulk it.

I had to replace two toilets that were cracked  at the base due to an overweight tenant..  very frustrating.  one caused a water leak that the tenant completely ignored, and I didn't find out about either toilet until the move out inspection.

I like the idea of adding "stability bars" where possible to ease the load a toilet can take (sorry for the pun.. just had to).. 

Originally posted by @Zech Ehnert :
Originally posted by @Jean Bolger:
Originally posted by @Zech Ehnert:

... after reading this I'm going to make sure that the toilets are reinforced. I mean I rent properties in Wisconsin.

 Yep, I've been to Wisconsin, lol.

But I have experienced the shearing off of the toilet here in Colorado too, which I hear is the fittest state in the country based on statistics. I'm not sure what type of reinforcement one could do? I bet in the next few years we start seeing toilets on the market that are specifically designed for this.

I don't like touching a toilet twice. If I install it, that's it for me. I'm in a position that most people won't be. I'm going to be gutting all of the bathrooms in my 4 unit as the current tenants vacate. At that point I plan on going down to the sub-floor and depending on the condition of that we may take that up. at that time I may run studs along the flange and bolt the toilet to that. I plan on using metal washers rather than the plastic ones they come with it. Then I'll shim the toilet so it won't rock then caulk around it.

If I couldn't do that, I'd use the metal washers, get some locking nuts and shim and caulk it.

You have no idea of the leveraging force of a 350lb+ person, do you? ;)

The problem is that these people, and I saw it with my own eyes, are able to break the bottom of the toilet around the bolts. They will break the porcelain.

Frankly, you are better to have a little give, than make it rock solid.

Easily the most interesting thread on BP this year so far.....

Originally posted by @Jean Bolger :

 Yep, I've been to Wisconsin, lol.

LOL, love this comment.  Sorry Jean but I've been to Aurora....I think they left that part of CO out during the "Fittest State" survey!  Sorry, I just moved out of Boulder so I had to throw that in... :-)

One thing I have seen if you know you will have overweight tenants is to have a handicapped toilet put in. These are higher in elevation than a standard toilet. The rocking is the same for an elderly person that has weak leg muscles. When the toilet is low to the ground it is harder for them to get up. The elderly because they are weaker with the muscles and sometimes overweight as well. When the toilet is higher it is not as hard generally to stand back up. A grab bar can help sometimes close to the toilet to stabilize them and push off of. They make padded toilet bowl pieces that are up higher and just slide over the toilet bowl as well to use if you want to go over a standard toilet instead of replace with a handicapped one.

Toilet Options

  

Having been over 350 pounds, but not a renter, I always felt discriminated and embarrassed when I was handed seat belt extensions. I also had to get an extender after I got a ticket and an extra one for not wearing a seat belt. Feel a lot less discriminated against now. Just get it now for being old...

Rich

Originally posted by @Joel Owens :

One thing I have seen if you know you will have overweight tenants is to have a handicapped toilet put in. These are higher in elevation than a standard toilet. The rocking is the same for an elderly person that has weak leg muscles. When the toilet is low to the ground it is harder for them to get up. The elderly because they are weaker with the muscles and sometimes overweight as well. When the toilet is higher it is not as hard generally to stand back up. A grab bar can help sometimes close to the toilet to stabilize them and push off of. They make padded toilet bowl pieces that are up higher and just slide over the toilet bowl as well to use if you want to go over a standard toilet instead of replace with a handicapped one.

Toilet Options

  

 I agree with the height requirement. When you buy them you can see if they are ADA compliant. I think that they require a 16-17 inch height. These are the only ones I would put in. 

Originally posted by @Joel Owens :

One thing I have seen if you know you will have overweight tenants is to have a handicapped toilet put in. These are higher in elevation than a standard toilet. The rocking is the same for an elderly person that has weak leg muscles. When the toilet is low to the ground it is harder for them to get up. The elderly because they are weaker with the muscles and sometimes overweight as well. When the toilet is higher it is not as hard generally to stand back up. A grab bar can help sometimes close to the toilet to stabilize them and push off of. They make padded toilet bowl pieces that are up higher and just slide over the toilet bowl as well to use if you want to go over a standard toilet instead of replace with a handicapped one.

Toilet Options

  

 Thanks for the advice Joel.  I hadn't considered a handicapped toilet.  It's practically impossible to install a grab bar in this bathroom without a complete remodel, but a handicapped toilet should just barely fit.

Of course, it's hard to know during a rehab that one property might attract obese tenants, so pre-installing a toilet just for that reason doesn't make a lot of sense unless the property is near a diet facility.  Strangely enough, there is an internationally regarded overweight clinic in Durham, but I don't have any properties nearby.

Thanks again!

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