All California Starbucks are required by law to have public restrooms

dogsgottago.jpgMy local Starbucks (the one at Whitley Heights) has no bathroom. This is a problem for a place that offers wireless internet at $40/month (via TMobile) and serves caffeinated beverages. Even worse, there are no bathrooms within walking distance… the Whitley Heights Market next door serves pizza, there a Subway also in the same strip mall, and neither have a public restroom. The only public restroom nearby is at the sushi restraurant (who’s name changes so often I refuse to reference it), but its for customers only.

While complaining about this with friends, I learned this isn’t the only Starbucks in the city that lacks a bathroom. However, this is the one that frustrated me enough to look up if there were any local laws that might require public businesses to provide restroom facilities…

And what I learned may blow your toilet lid off: while city laws only require access to restrooms for the handicapped, State code DOES require local businesses of ALL types to provide restroom facilities for their customers. The problem is that its up to local authorities to enforce these codes, which it appears they have failed to do.

Details backing up this expose after the jump.

The State of California includes the Uniform Plumbing Code as part of its building code that sets safety and common sense standards that need to be followed by all. Most of the Code’s contents are boring for the layman, as they apply to types of piping and infrastructue that must be followed while installing and maintaining safe and reliable plumbing. However, the same Code also stipulates that all public businesses must provide restroom facilities for its customers.

Summarized by the American Restroom Association:

2003 UNIFORM PLUMBING CODE (UPC) Published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials   

413.2.2 Fixtures accessible only to private offices shall not be counted to determine compliance with this section. establishments with an occupant load of one hundred (100) or more shall be provided with separate facilities for employees and customers. Customer and employee facilities may be combined for occupant loads less than one hundred (100).

413.3 Separate Facilities
Separate toilet facilities shall be provided for each sex.
(2) In occupancies serving ten (10) or fewer people, one (1) toilet facility, designed for use by no more than one (1) person at a time, shall be permitted for use by both sexes.
(3) In business and mercantile occupancies with a total floor area of fifteen hundred (1500) square feet (139.5 m 2 ) or less, one (1) toilet facility, designed for use by no more than one (1) person at a time, shall satisfy the requirements for serving customers and employees of both sexes.

413.5 Facilities in Mercantile and Business Occupancies Serving Customers
413.5.1 Requirements for customers and employees shall be permitted to be met with a single set of restrooms accessible to both groups. The required number of fixtures shall be the greater of the required number for employees or the required number for customers.
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).

In their attempt to clarify this even further, the Restroom Association sent a message to the board that evaluates the code: “Is it the intent of the 2003 UPC to require a toilet facility for customers, patrons, and visitors of all mercantile and business establishments?” To which they replied:

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.

More on this soon… in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter…

photo by Rita Rose

24 thoughts on “All California Starbucks are required by law to have public restrooms”

  1. Wow! Thanks for uncovering this! Let’s hope it leads to some change. I’m sure the businesses pay the inspectors enough to keep them from being cited, but it’d be interesting to see what happens with a little consumer pressure.

  2. I had always heard that this was the law, but I never knew for sure.

    Has anyone used the bathroom at a Subway restaurant? I’ve never seen one with a bathroom accessible. I’m not sure if they would let someone use it if asked, but I can only imagine that people would feel embarrassed at asking to use it.

  3. The problem arises, one would imagine, that most subways have their restroom in the Back of House which is an employee’s only area. I wonder how that works, legally.

    On the other hand, most starbucks’ do have at least one restroom for public use, so I don’t know what to tell you about yours.

  4. There are certain things that we as humans have to do, to ya know, exist: breathing, eating, drinking, pooping and peeing. It’s the great equalizer. In those ways, we are all alike — unless we are at Starbucks.

    I have never understood the business need to deny people the basic human function of using the facilities. They do it to children in school as well. They tell some children “no” at the whim of an adult who apparently has a cosmic link to the universe and is omnipotent and knows if a child should or should not be allowed to pee. Whatever.

    If you’re going to serve people a diuretic I say you better let them pee damn it!

  5. The Subway in Atwater Village has free wifi, and a public restroom! I have used both. And the Subway on Sunset at Vermont, in the Kaiser Parking structure has a public restroom as well. I believe that the Subway on Vermont, south of Santa Monica, and across from LACC, and the Subway on Glendale Blvd, just west of Fletcher both have one of those ‘back of house’ hidden restrooms. Use the free wifi at the Burger Kings instead. They have public rest rooms available!

  6. A friend and I were about to be patrons at the Starbucks on Melrose just a few blocks east of Fairfax. Before we put the order in, she asked to use the bathroom and was told there were none for customers. We ended up leaving and going to Cantor’s instead.

    I then asked a friend who had been a Starbucks manager for many years, she said that location was probably “grandfathered” as it is one of the oldest in LA, and could get away with it until they tried to do a renovation. At that point, they would have to bring the store up to code. It also has to do with seating, and that store has very little indoor seating considering the square footage.

  7. I used to be a daily customer at the Whitley Hts. Starbucks (until the construction caused me to reroute my commute) and the people who work there are super nice. You should just ask Jerry, the manager, about this. I’m sure if you ask nicely, you’ll get an answer (if not necessarily a bathroom).


  8. Thanks everyone for commenting – rest assured I’ll be following this up with more posts this week, some addressing specific points in the comments.

    Dan, I’ll check in with Jerry next time I’m there. I haven’t reached out to Starbucks to comment yet, but I will.

    Robyn, the “grandfathering” excuse makes perfect sense, and it sounds like whoever mentioned it is at least aware of the law.

    And if anyone can help me keep a running list of Starbucks in the LA area that don’t have public bathrooms, please drop it in the comments!

  9. I believe that the UNIFORM PLUMBING CODE (UPC) is a Building code and not a “state law”. As such it deals with new construction and not enforceable law.

  10. David, its sounds like your not really getting it. It’s a lot more than semantics – Building codes (plumbing, electrical, fire, etc) is for new construction only. It’s irrellevant for existing buildings (until they are renovated).

    It’s enforceable for NEW CONSTRUCTION. I don’t know the exact number, but a good percentage of the buildings in the state wouldn’t meet current code….

  11. David, Who ya gunna call? Building and safety is not tasked to anything more than the BUILDING of structures. This is not semantics, this is reality. Face it and move on.

  12. No, actually I understand the concept. I’m just being snarky – a blogging requirement. (if you see my earlier comments, I acknowledge the concept of “grandfathering”… which may not be the right term here, but the same idea applies.
    The question might be – does building a new Starbucks, even in a new structure – require it to follow these building codes? How much renovation would a new location need to go through to make it need to follow the laws>

  13. Yeah, I stopped by that Whitley Heights Starbucks once with my small bladdered 3 year old & was really surprised to find they had no bathroom !!!
    I let her pee on the side walk out front as a protest.

  14. I don’t usually expect every business to have a public bathroom. But, a place that serves drinks? Come on. What’s the next step? No trash cans?

  15. David, I can appreciate your personal feelings for the need of a bathroom while lounging at your favorite office. I feel this is not a situation of ‘concept”. Your title “All California Starbucks are required by law to have public restrooms” is a statement. If you want to speak of concepts maybe your title should be: All California Starbucks are SHOULD BE required by law to have public restrooms.

    Let’s not be vague here, grandfathering is NOT the same as what you are discussing. This is more a matter of understanding the use of the UBC for public policy. The UBC can ONLY be applied in the here and now. The new construction of a building or additions to an existing building is what the UBC addresses. Remodeling for a new Starbucks is not part of the building permit process. New to you does not count. New building does.

    In other words if the owner of the building needs an appropriate permit he may fall under those guidelines. I use guidelines because the UBC does not address HOW to do the building, only the desired result.

    I will close with this thought: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it — and its resulting costs. We all pay for the upgrades. Nothing in this world is free.

  16. The Starbucks in Larchmont doesn’t have a bathroom – they refer everyone to the Jamba Juice down the street.

  17. The Starbucks in Hollywood doesn’t have a restroom, either.

    Wow. I had no idea this was state law. I’m going to have some fun with this, let me tell you.

    I am also ashamed to admit that I once went into the back alley of a place on Melrose that didn’t have a restroom and in retaliation peed up against the back door. In the summer.

  18. Um… a lady peeing against a back door? Damn… another reason you rock!

    However, based on the above comments I may have to adjust my initial claim that Starbucks are breaking the law by not having restrooms… still looking into this, but some good points are raised above that deserve looking into.

  19. Why don’t you petition for them to put a coin operated Johnny On The Spot. They could make money on it!

  20. Starbucks’ are run by a giant corporation and any differentiation from the norm may be undesirable, but in the grand scheme of 10,000 stores worldwide one or two Starbucks sans bathroom is a drop in a bucket that they’re not concerned about.

  21. I live a few blocks away from that Starbucks and I once saw a little boy peeing nearby with his mother and dog watching.

    I have yet to see any adults pee in front of that Starbucks (although I have seen adults do both #1 and #2 in public in the same neighborhood).

    Its inevitable I suppose.

Comments are closed.