Building Codes and Inspections/Private office toilet room


Within an existing single story office building (employees only)there are two accessible toilet rooms.  However, in one of the private offices there is an adjoining private toilet room.  Does this private toilet room need to be accessible too?

California does not usually distinguish between facilities such as office buildings that only admit employees, and those that admit the public when buildings are either constructed or remodeled. The idea is to build for the future, when the use of the building might change. Also, facilities such as restrooms are generally considered for common use, rather than as part of work space, and must be accessible. I believe the federal standards do allow for an exception to various requirements for individual toilet rooms (i.e. restrooms) accessed only through a private office, but California appears to have removed all those exceptions, and to require that such restrooms be accessible.

You do need to remember, however, that California does not require barrier removal. That is a federal requirement. Since private restrooms don't have to be fully accessible for federal purposes (I think they need to be "adaptable"), normally you wouldn't have a barrier removal lawsuit based on accessibility of a private restroom. What gets a bit sticky is the fact that if California required the restroom to be accessible when it was built, and the code was not followed, someone might bring a suit stating that the restroom did not conform to the accessibility standards in place at the time of construction. It is a fine point, but you cannot always tell what a judge might do. If someone has a guest in his or her office, and that person has to leave the office to travel to an accessible restroom, when other guest would be able to use the restroom in the office, then you can question whether the restroom is really for private use.

So, if you are an inspector, and there is construction involving the office, you should probably check on what it would cost to remodel the toilet room and see if it fits within the rules for the amount that is triggered. But if you are purchasing the building, it may be OK that the restroom is not accessible, as long as it is adaptable and meets the federal code.

Remember that my specialty is signs, but I am on the ANSI Committee and on various California committees, so I do have a slightly better than nodding acquaintance with other aspects of the code. I can see if I can get a definitive answer from the State Architect, but if courts are involved, you can never be certain of how something like this will be interpreted.

Sharon Toji  

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Sharon Toji


I have special expertise in the subject of accessibility codes and guidelines (ADA), and most specifically in the field of signage. If you have a question that is not about the ADA or about signs, I suggest you try the following excellent site: Naffa International BCDG (Building Code Discussion Group). The website address is You do have to register, but it's free. You will find discussions here on all kinds of Building Code Q & A topics. You go to the forum that sounds as if it's close to your topic, check out some of the posts and see if it sounds like a fit. Then pose your question. With luck, you may get some really good answers. You can email some of the experts individually by clicking on the headings of their posts. When you ask a question, of me, or of someone on the above site, tell them your state, and maybe your city if it's a large city. That is crucial for answering code questions. Sharon Toji


I am a voting delegate to the American National Standards Institute that writes accessiblity standards used by the International Building Code and are the basis for the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). I am also a member of the Access Advisory Committee to the California State Building Standards Commission, among other positions.

Signs and the ADA (a manual I have written that is used across the country), and articles in many trade journals.

BA, Reed College Graduate work, University of Munich (Germany) and University of California, Irvine

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