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Many Restaurants Ignore Rules For Public Restrooms

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There are thousands of restaurants in Chicago and many of them are operating outside the law by not offering proper public restroom facilities.

Critics said that's because city officials have chosen not to enforce state and municipal laws and ordinances governing the placement of restrooms in restaurants.

Critics claim those codes have essentially been on the books in name only.

So CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli set out on Wednesday to check several downtown restaurants.

At Jimmy John's on West Washington in the Loop the smells may be free.. but the bathrooms sure aren't.

George Flores, who uses a wheelchair, found that out the hard way.

"I went in there, ordered a Coke and asked to use the bathroom. When I asked to use the bathroom, the person at the counter told me 'We don't have a bathroom,'" Flores said.

Then Flores was pointed to a nearby restaurant down the street.

"They told me that I had to go to a facility down the corner, outside, down the block," Flores said.

But, according to state and local codes, that Jimmy John's is required by law to have public restrooms.

Attorney Dave Hundley said the state's plumbing code requires all restaurants with a combination of more than ten employees and seats to have men's and women's washrooms.

Extremely small restaurants are not required to have public men's and women's restrooms, but they are required to allow patrons to use the employee restrooms.

But Hundley said the rules have been shamefully ignored for years.

"There's a good reason for it. It makes sense to allow for washrooms in a place that's serving food and beverages," he said. "So, either it is there to be enforced for the benefit of the public, or somebody should say we don't need this law anymore."

The Jimmy John's on Washington Street certainly is not alone.

In an unscientific survey of restaurants in the Loop, South Loop, West Loop and River North areas, Hundley's team found scores of restaurants blatantly ignoring the law.

"We looked at 74 locations and only six of those were in compliance with the law, as far as we could tell," Hundley said.

More than 40 of those restaurants had no publicly accessible washrooms at all.

CBS 2 stopped by five of those restaurants on Wednesday and were repeatedly told that public restrooms were not available. That's frustrating to customers like Bryant Sanders.

"I think the city, for one, should do something about it to make the restaurants comply," Sanders said.

Flores agreed and, not just for handicapped people like himself, but for everyone.

Otherwise, he said the codes might as well be flushed down the toilet.

"It's not a joke. We have to use the bathroom and it's something that causes a lot suffering and a lot of stress for someone like myself," he said.

Representatives of the city's Buildings Department did not immediately return phone and email messages for comment.

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