If you remove soap or paper towels from a restroom in a public facility is it necessarily stealing?

**** The information written here is not legal advice and the author of this blog is not your lawyer.  These posts merely contain ideas to help you plan and organize your legal research and identify potentially helpful sources of law. ****

The laws involving public restrooms tend to be in the health code, not in the crimes code. They generally require that any place making toilets available must also have sinks, that sufficient facilities are available for both genders, and that restaurants have to include public restrooms. The lack of a specific law about taking supplies from restrooms does not mean that behavior is legal. (The “health code” link takes you to statutes. For states’ health department regulations, navigate through this portal starting with the name of your state.)

The general definition of theft is an act “done with intent to deprive the owner permanently of the possession, use, or benefit of his property.”[i] So, removing paper products and soap that are provided only to enable you to fully use the public restroom can be seen as stealing (probably “theft of public property”) because doing so deprives the owner, be it a business or a government building with a public restroom, of those resources which the health code requires them to have available to other customers.[ii]

Since it would be a theft of inexpensive goods, a facility might be more likely to confiscate stolen soap and paper that they find in someone’s possession instead of calling the police and pressing charges. They might also ban a thief from future admission.

Obtaining an employee’s permission to remove supplies from the restroom will probably prevent it from being an act of theft. Employees are considered to legitimately express the authority of the establishment, so if one of them allows a person to remove supplies then legal analysis would reason that the owner was not being deprived of the stuff because he, through the employee, gave it away.


[i] Black’s Law Dictionary 1516 (8th ed. 2004).[ii] Be aware that health codes are in the local and states’ regulations, not in the local and states’ ordinances or statutes, because the Health Departments, not the legislatures, make the health rules. Examples of state regulations requiring sinks, soap, towels, etc… are: Ind. Code § 16-42-5-14 (2007); Minn R. 4626.1095 5-204.11 (2006); 25 Tex. Admin. Code §229.167(e) (2007); Okla. Admin. Code § 310:285-3-6 (2005); 15A N.C. Admin.Code 18A.2409 (2007); 6 Colo. Code Regs. § 1010-10-2.7 (2007); Ala. Admin. Code r. 420-5-17 (2006).

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3 Comments »

  1. This is good information. I know a public place where they removed the soap and i didnt understand and didnt think it was legal. Now i know its not.

  2. Sasquatch! said

    If a person had a disability which caused said person to sweat. Would that person not be protected under the ADA. What is the person requested an accomodation?

    Or another example:

    If a library, or Amtrak, or some other public place, had say insufficient air conditioning, which caused a person using said facilities to smell badly, would thay public facility not be precluded from denying a person use of said facilities?

  3. Ray Ing said

    If your INTENT to “stock up for later”?

    then, yes, that’s very likely stealing

    Xmpp Texting: RayHelp@chatme.xyz/otr

    Free yourselves from the shackles of sms texting and I’ll do my best to help where I can. This is not email. OTR required for privacy and security.

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