It is a common occurrence to walk into a clothing store, looking for a hot new item when the urge to use the restroom comes. You might ask the store clerk to use the restroom, yet meet refusal because it is against company policy. After a hectic search for the nearest public restroom, questions arise regarding who or what determines the rules and regulations for business public restrooms. It turns out the answer depends upon the state in which you reside.
Individual states either create state laws regarding bathroom regulations or adopt one of the standard codes. The two most widely accepted codes are the International Plumbing Code or the Uniform Plumbing Code. The International Plumbing Code requires that “Customers, patrons and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public use and utilized as restaurants, nightclubs, places of assembly, business and mercantile occupancies." The Uniform Plumbing Code does not specifically spell out requirements for public access though it can be strongly inferred by the toilet “fixtures per person ratio” in public use spaces. Some states, such as Texas, conform to the Uniform Plumbing Code as well as established state laws for public restrooms in areas of public assembly but not in retail environments. Texas law, like some other states that have adopted the Uniform Plumbing Code, only requires retail establishments to allow patrons with a medical note or disabled card to use the restrooms while the permission of other patrons is left to the company's discretion.
Both standard plumbing codes require a specific amount of fixtures in a public restroom determined by the facility’s population capacity. For example, according to the Uniform Plumbing Code, if a convention center can hold 500 people, there must be three toilet stalls and three urinals available in the men’s room and 11 toilet stalls for the women’s room. The International Plumbing Code calls for three toilet stalls and three urinals in the men’s room while the women’s room would need five toilet stalls under the same conditions.
The ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act's intent when enacted in 1990 was to improve the accessibility of public areas and service to people living with serious disabilities in an effort to help them continue to be productive members of society. Making public restrooms readily accessible and usable to people with disabilities is a part of that. The ADA requires the height of toilets to be reasonable for wheelchair access, ranging between 17 and 19 inches in height. It also requires such conditions as "clear floor space" for movement, grab bars for stabilization, certain flush controls and reachable toilet paper dispensers.
Based in Southern California, Daniel Holzer has been a freelance writer specializing in labor issues, personal finance and green living since 2004. His recent work has appeared online at Green Your Apartment and other websites. Holzer studied English literature at California State University, Fullerton.