Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Restroom restrictions
March 10, 2006 1:13 PM   Subscribe

A cafe on Geary St. in San Francisco enforces a $3.00 minimum purchase for bathroom use. Is this draconian policy against the law? What about in other cities -- is it illegal to refuse bathroom access to those who merely purchase $1.00 java? If so, what legal relief is possible?
posted by inksyndicate to Law & Government (45 answers total)
 
legal relief is probably going to set you back even more
posted by soma lkzx at 1:16 PM on March 10, 2006


No it is not against the law , when entering a business you are entering private property. A proprietor has the same right to deny you the use of the bathroom that you have in your own home.This is also the reason that stores can refuse certain denominations of bills even though they are legal tender.
posted by grex at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2006


This is also the reason that stores can refuse certain denominations of bills even though they are legal tender.

Yup.
posted by WCityMike at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2006


Also, I've noticed that businesses in San Francisco post signs stating that they have the right to refuse service at any time to anyone for any reason. I assume that applies to the bathrooms as well.
posted by aberrant at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2006


Legal relief? Are you kidding?

Go to another café and quit your hipster bitching. It's their cafe and their building, they can enforce any use of their facilities that they want.
posted by symphonik at 1:25 PM on March 10, 2006


Yea, it's certainly not illegal. I worked at an establishment that had a public bathroom that was then made private (it was very close to the stock room and away from where employees could see what was going on...). If people would ask if we had a bathroom, I'd say no. But if someone came in, wild-eyed, "MAY I PLEASE USE YOUR BATHROOM?!?!?!?!" I'd escort them back to it. What cruel person can deny someone truly in need?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:26 PM on March 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's not hipster bitching. It comes from curiosity that at this particular cafe where I used to hang out, there were nonstop verbal clashes between the owner and shocked visitors. I eventually stopped going because of the tension and chaos. No need to be mean, jeez.
posted by inksyndicate at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2006


But doesnt the law require certain types of businesses to provide restroom facilities to their customers. And, cant you then argue that if you are buying a $1.00 espresso shot, then you are a customer??

I can see them denying to people off the street (non-customers) but at what point is the policy so restrictive (e.g. only customers who fulfill some outrageous criteria) that they essentially arent complying with the law at all?
posted by vacapinta at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2006


Also, I swear there's an ordinance somewhere about bathroom access, so I'd appreciate more informed comments than the "omg businesses can do whatever they want !11!!" stripe. If I'm wrong I'd like someone to help me out with that.
posted by inksyndicate at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2006


No it is not against the law , when entering a business you are entering private property. A proprietor has the same right to deny you the use of the bathroom that you have in your own home.

This is an uninformed comment. A business must comply to regulations on safety, health code etc. which are not applicable to people's homes. I think inksyndicate is asking about ordinances not just people's random opinions.

(on preview: what ink said)
posted by vacapinta at 1:32 PM on March 10, 2006


(Right. Also, I should add that the only reason I added "legal relief" was because I thought it was a funny pun.)
posted by inksyndicate at 1:33 PM on March 10, 2006


What cruel person can deny someone truly in need?

Sounds like the proprietor of inksyndicate's cafe can.

The question sounds less like hipster bitching than wondering what to do when that basic human sympathy is lacking... Makes me think of European countries with lots of public restrooms -- "peeing" falls somewhere above "breathing" and somewhere below "eating" in basic human functions.
posted by salvia at 1:34 PM on March 10, 2006


I would imagine that they have had some pretty significant costs with people coming in off the street and fucking up their restrooms. Their "bar" is three dollars, perhaps, in order to make sure that someone does not merely bum a buck off someone on the street and then get a cheap cup of coffee and then go in and shit on the floor or barf in the sink.

(I have been in some pretty disgusting restrooms in SF.)

A small percentage of people create this situation, and I am not unsympathetic to the person who runs that business.

Let the customer choose where to patronize.
posted by Danf at 1:42 PM on March 10, 2006


The San Francisco municipal code is here.
A quick search didn't turn up anything that seems to require restroom privileges (except for employees).
posted by madajb at 1:42 PM on March 10, 2006


All i'm saying is that if they have the right to refuse service ,they have the right to disallow your use of their facilities.
posted by grex at 1:42 PM on March 10, 2006


Case in point: Gas stations with the sign: Restrooms are for customer use only!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2006


Okay, I was a little snarky.

I get very frustrated that there seems to be "legal recourse" or "legal relief" for everything in this country, and your question was sure worded like you were off to sue the coffee shop for not letting you piss for a dollar.

I apologize, sincerely.
posted by symphonik at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2006


The City of Davenport, Iowa's business license application states that "Fixed sales location requires property owner to provide bathroom facilities and ample parking for employees and customers." (I'm sure there's something more applicable -- just showing that such regulations exist...)
posted by salvia at 1:49 PM on March 10, 2006


Some municipalities have the requirement that businesses must provide a restroom if they serve food or drinks. It's possible this violates those laws, but I doubt it. That'd be your primary law to investigate, though.

This is likely a way to avoid obviously discriminating against people who may wander in to use the restroom for illicit activities or extended visist. I kind of doubt they'd kick out a businessman in a suit for using the restroom after buying a $1 cup of coffee, although they might.
posted by mikeh at 1:50 PM on March 10, 2006


I can't find the law for Boston, but the essence of it is that if the eating establishment has seating for over X amount of people, they are required to have a public restroom that anyone can just walk in to use.

If you fall below that threshold, you are not required to provide a public restroom.
posted by jerryg99 at 1:50 PM on March 10, 2006


Not to ruin the day of all the people gleefully posting uninformed musings on property rights, but this site provides actual information.

You'll have to dig a bit deeper to find out if your particular cafe is affected, but just as a sample (California mandates UPC):
Is it the intent of the 2003 UPC to require a toilet facility for customers, patrons, and visitors of all mercantile and business establishments?

The 2004 UPC Answers & Analysis Committee answered Item UPC #04-19 as follows:

Yes. The general provisions of Section 413.0 and Table 4-1 have requirements for employee use and public use in a number of occupancies including assembly, institutional, and office or public buildings.
posted by tkolar at 1:54 PM on March 10, 2006


Yeah, sorry about that. Looking back at my question, I see where I might have come across as some obsessive maniac out to sue cafe owners everywhere.

I seriously have no malice towards any of these places -- it just got me thinking about bathroom obligations. Every day I'd come to this cafe and watch these Clerks-ish fights develop between the proprietor and (largely very rude) customers. Eventually I started wondering what legal obligation you have to provide a place to take a leak, but I don't have an axe to grind or anything.
posted by inksyndicate at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2006


I can't be the only one here who's had to pay a cover charge to pee during Mardi Gras in NOLA.

Due to this insane policy amongst all of the bar owners, the side streets off Bourbon Street were soaked in urine.

This is over 10 years ago, so maybe things have changed, but it appeared to be widely accepted that if you wanted to pee somewhere, you had to be ready to pay for a two drink minimum in many cases.
posted by popechunk at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2006


Quoting from tkolar's link:

413.5.2 Fixtures for customer use shall be permitted to be met by providing a centrally located facility accessible to several stores. The maximum distance from entry to any store to this facility shall not exceed five hundred (500) feet (152.4 m).

Perhaps a building within 500' has a facility? If so, it appears that the java store is not out of compliance.

Also, if you look at the UPC table (PDF download from that link), it makes no mention of whether access should be cost-free or not.
posted by aberrant at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2006


Also, if you look at the UPC table (PDF download from that link), it makes no mention of whether access should be cost-free or not.

Interesting point, although it does specify customer AND public access. Wouldn't someone paying to use the restroom be a customer?

A question for a lawyer, I suppose.
posted by tkolar at 2:04 PM on March 10, 2006


When I worked at a fast food joint, we emphasized that washrooms were for customers only. Where I live(d), the law said we had to provide washrooms for customers. SOme people, once told they had to make a purchase, would say, "OKay, get me a coffee/sub/muffin, and I'll be out of the washroom in a sec to get it." They'd head for the washroom; we'd prep the order. And then they'd walk right out of the store. Not quite a dine n' dash, since they never dined. I've never quite been sure of the legal status in that situation. Eventually, we just refused to let people into the washroom until they'd paid. Of course, 15 years later, I don't know why I was working so hard to protect my $6 an hour job, which I could have got at any other fast food joint.
posted by acoutu at 2:09 PM on March 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


i don't know about legal relief, but were i so refused i would be tempted, depending on proximity to home and whether i had an appointment to keep, to relieve myself by wetting my pants at the front counter.

San Francisco is full of crazy people (i can say this as someone who lives mere blocks from geary, not to mention as someone who would be tempted to wet himself in public) and flash mobs, and where the two meet i'm sure you can get a whole lotta people to pee in their service area at once!
posted by troybob at 2:14 PM on March 10, 2006


troybob: (*shudder*). Issue is whether the person denying access is also the person who would be responsible for cleaning up the mess. If not, then you're possibly hurting an innocent third party.

Still, it's certainly something I could see happening on some parts of Geary :)
posted by aberrant at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2006


i don't know about legal relief, but were i so refused i would be tempted, depending on proximity to home and whether i had an appointment to keep, to relieve myself by wetting my pants at the front counter.

Yeah, you do that. See how far it gets you.

Look, it may technically be illegal, but who wants to be the guy who starts some legal shit over it? If it gathered local news coverage (which it might), they're going to paint an... unflattering portrait of you. And heaven help you if you ever get a ticket in that town again...

Why don't you just pee at your previous stop?
posted by mkultra at 2:41 PM on March 10, 2006


I'm shocked that there is such a thing as the "American Restroom Association". What will they think of next?
posted by gwenzel at 2:49 PM on March 10, 2006


Some municipalities have the requirement that businesses must provide a restroom if they serve food or drinks.

I think here (Phila, PA) it's 'if you provide table service - i.e. you can eat-in - you have to provide restroom facilities. With that said, I was on a goup bike ride and we stopped at a pizza place. Everybody bought slices and drinks. We asked nicely if we could use their restroom. We were told no. We went outside and pissed by their dumpster and never went back.
posted by fixedgear at 2:54 PM on March 10, 2006


mkultra, what may be unimportant to you may be of vital importance to others. For example, see the class-action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell because their restroom doors opened with 8.5 lbs of pull, rather than the legally-mandated 5 lbs of pull.
posted by aberrant at 2:57 PM on March 10, 2006


sometimes you just gotta pee, and it's not something you can always plan for...

most San Francisco places are pretty cool about it, i would say, owing to a certain neighborhood feel...for those that aren't, my argument is more against a business that has the attitude that they have a right to make a profit off and within a local community without a responsibility to contribute and be good neighbors...i hold similar ire for such businesses that have limited 'boutique' hours or restaurants open only during specific meal periods...it's rather 'ask not what i can do for my country, but what my country can do for me'
posted by troybob at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2006


I worked at an establishment that had a public bathroom that was then made private...If people would ask if we had a bathroom, I'd say no.

There was a place on my commute that did this, after I'd used the bathroom several times. I had an urgent need one time after they'd gone private, and not only did they try to deny me access, but they lied about the bathroom being there. I used it anyway.

Still, it's certainly something I could see happening on some parts of Geary

No doubt. I saw a guy peeing into the middle of Market Street downtown during lunch hour one time.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:07 PM on March 10, 2006


I've seen that a lot in San Francisco. Probably because of all the filthy homeless people that like to go into available restrooms to try and bathe in the sinks and otherwise trash the place.

Since San Francisco stopped handing out cash to a bunch of shiftless homeless people, some of them have moved down here to the south Bay Area, and we're now seeing the same thing happening.

There are plenty of "eat in" places in SF that have absolutely no bathroom access at all. Starbucks on Market (few of them) are among the guilty. Notice the pay toilets that open the doors automatically? Yup.
posted by drstein at 3:14 PM on March 10, 2006


gwenzel wrote...
I'm shocked that there is such a thing as the "American Restroom Association". What will they think of next?

As the boomers get older and more infirm, I expect a lot of things that started as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act to blossom like you wouldn't believe.
posted by tkolar at 3:15 PM on March 10, 2006


Actually, the availability of restrooms for hand washing and such is a public health issue. In many places, if you serve food, a restroom is required.

If we look at some regs for restaurants in SF, we get:

070 Toilet/Toilet Rooms: Disrepair/Inadequate # - Door not Self Closing/Not Clean/Dispensers/Toilet tissue - Toilet facilities shall be maintained clean, sanitary and in good repair. Toilet rooms shall be separated by a-well-fitting self-closing door. Toilet tissue shall be provided in a permanently installed dispenser at each toilet. The number of toilet facilities shall be in accordance with local building and plumbing ordinances. Toilet facilities shall be provided for patrons: in establishments with more than 20,000 sq ft.; establishments offering on-site liquor consumption. and where food is sold for immediate consumption (114105, 114120, 440.5)

See SFDPH.

I suspect that while a place can deny a person restroom use if they aren't a paying customer, I suspect they really can't legally impose a $3 minimum if you are a customer. Why not call the SFDPH and see if you can file a complaint? I'd be pissed if this happened to me! ;)
posted by bim at 5:18 PM on March 10, 2006


Speaking of complaints, here's how you do it. Go for it!
posted by bim at 5:23 PM on March 10, 2006


Thank you.

The rush to downplay consumer rights in this thread -- not that I'm unsympathetic to the small business owner coping with bathroom abusers -- reminds me of this Best Buy incident.

In short, there was controversy over whether you must submit to Best Buy's burly door receipt checkers. Turns out you don't have to, but in the online discussion, many people hastened to say, "don't make waves, sheesh, it's private property." I'm not trying to make waves, but it's always good to know what rights you have, isn't it?
posted by inksyndicate at 6:27 PM on March 10, 2006


I'm not trying to make waves, but it's always good to know what rights you have, isn't it?

Yes. And stand up for your rights. I want what I'm entitled to -- nothing more but nothing less. If it takes waves to get that, so be it. No need to ever feel guilty. :)
posted by bim at 8:12 PM on March 10, 2006


Why not call the SFDPH and see if you can file a complaint? I'd be pissed if this happened to me! ;)

Please -- be sure to wash your hands before coming back to this thread. ;)
posted by ericb at 8:18 PM on March 10, 2006


When I had a small retail business, customers would trash the bathroom. Not homeless people or crazy people, but perfectly clean and nice looking people of all ages and either gender would make a terrible mess. So of course, we stopped allowing public access. How difficult can it be to pee and wash your hands and be polite about it?
posted by theora55 at 9:17 PM on March 10, 2006


gwenzel said:
I'm shocked that there is such a thing as the "American Restroom Association". What will they think of next?




Well, there is the World Toilet Organisation ( you can call it the other WTO ) with its website here. There is even a game "Urgent" you can play there .
It says:
Urgent! is a game, in 3D format, which aims to educate toilet users on proper toilet hygiene and toilet etiquettes. The toilets must be kept clean, and all germs should be disinfected before it comes in contact with patrons of the toilet such as elderly and pregnant women.

What will they think of next? :)
posted by kryptos at 10:01 PM on March 10, 2006


Please -- be sure to wash your hands before coming back to this thread. ;)

Glad you caught the joke. :>

...which aims to educate toilet users on proper toilet hygiene and toilet etiquettes.

Well, since somebody else brought up this subject, I continue to be shocked at how many people use the restroom then DON"T EVEN WASH THEIR HANDS! Jeezus.
posted by bim at 10:36 PM on March 10, 2006


Every day I'd come to this cafe and watch these Clerks-ish fights develop between the proprietor and (largely very rude) customers.

Yeah...it's actually a contentious issue that many people probably don't think about until they either work at a restaurant or try to use a bathroom without paying.

The $3 minimum seems strange to me. Not sure if it's illegal, but probably isn't the best business practice. I assume it's to discourage people from just trying to buy the cheapest thing on the menu to use the bathroom, which can sometimes turn out awkward.

This is a problem at semi-clean restaurants. I used to work at such a restaurant. People think they have the right to use the bathroom no matter what. When they try to buy just coffee, they're pissed that it costs $2.75 and we don't have take-out cups, even though it's clearly not that kind of place. But there's a reason they pick that place instead of the greasy spoon across the street--they want to be able to use a bathroom as clean as the Ritz with roughly the same level of hassle as asking for the bathroom key at Popeye's. People actually try to SNEAK INTO the restaurant to use the bathroom. Homeless people sneak in and stay in the (only) bathroom for 30min+. Where do the customers go then? How to be nice but still look after your actual customers and your business first? How to avoid the bathroom-seeker making a scene? Ugh, it sucks.
posted by lampoil at 11:04 AM on March 11, 2006


« Older A few friends and I are kickin...   |  How to become more wise? How ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.