Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Toliet Requirements Regulation: A Key Example of Red Tape?

Unemployment is too high.  We need job creation.  If you open a business in NYC, must you provide toliet access?  Given that toliet provision is costly, should we be enforcing such regulation now?   Two weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced that smaller restaurants and coffee places with an occupancy of 30 people or less do not have to provide two toliets.   The NY Times discusses this issue today in this piece.

A quote:

"Under legislation that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed on Aug. 8, small restaurants and coffee shops with an occupancy of 30 people or fewer are allowed to provide patrons with one bathroom rather than two, as previously required — one for each sex. The changes also brought the city’s plumbing code in line with a health department code that allowed places with fewer than 20 seats to not provide patrons with any bathroom.


"To determine the precise number of restrooms a restaurant or cafe must have. ...
The answer depends not only on how many seats it has, or people it can hold, but also on when the building was built, when the restaurant opened, what its certificate of occupancy says and whether it underwent renovations and, if so, how extensive.
A building is subject to the law it was built under, and if a restaurant moves into an old restaurant space and does not change its bathroom fixtures, the old requirements apply.
The city also does not have just one building code; there is a 1938 code, a 1968 code and a 2008 code, and all have different bathroom requirements. The 1968 code required one bathroom for each sex for up to 100 people. The 2008 code required one for each sex for up to 150, a Buildings Department spokeswoman said.
New laws are not retroactive — they apply only to new construction and if a site changes its use or occupancy load. Adding to the complexity, waivers have often been granted to smaller restaurants allowing them to have just one unisex bathroom when they otherwise might have needed two."

So, this is complicated regulation!  Why must there be any toliet regulation at all? In this age of twitter and Facebook, why can't restaurants choose whether they offer this amenity or not.  Why must it be bundled into the package?  Customers will have full information on whether they are visiting a store that has a toliet. If you can't predict when you need to use a toliet then you should go to a place that has one but why require this and limit the gains to trade?  


2 comments :

Noam Ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noam Ross said...

Simple: A lack of available toilets creates disgusting externalities. Restaurants have incentive to impose the costs of sanitation on others by encouraging customers to use toilets (or god knows what else) in other nearby businesses or public spaces. A better alternative might be to raise taxes in order to provide more public toilets, but it has proven difficult for municipal governments to do this in a way that the public accepts (in taxes and/or cleanliness). Instead we impose the tax indirectly via regulation, and we have the added benefit that business owners, if they have toilets, have incentive to keep them clean and sanitary so as to not offend their customers.

Regulation here corrects market externalities and aligns incentives for greater public welfare. It needs to be complicated and tweaked to make it more efficient and equitable and reduce its impact on gains in trade, but it is better than the market failure that would occur otherwise.