Squatting rights: City’s Downtown pay toilet could be area’s most affordable housing

A rendering of a pay toilet the city plans to install near the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan, and which could be the closest thing Downtown has to affordable housing.
Department of Transportation

BY COLIN MIXSON

It’s Downtown’s number-one — and number-two — real estate deal!

Daredevil renters seeking cheap accommodations in the heart of Lower Manhattan should look no further than a public pay toilet the city plans to install outside the Manhattan Municipal Building, which can be had for the low price of only $360 a month — albeit in increments of 15 minutes.

The city will offer its half-bath, no-bedroom rental without any fees or contracts, and will throw in self-cleaning technology that promises to keep appliances spic and span with minimal fuss.

Unfortunately, the low-rent public housing includes several drawbacks, foremost of which is that rent is due in 25-cent increments every 15 minutes, after which the doors automatically open, presenting some privacy issues likely to turn off some home seekers.

In lieu of a nosey landlord, the bathroom itself will notify tenants minutes before rent is due with audible cues, giving renters ample time to finish any private business they may be busy with before the doors swing open, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project.

The bathroom only operates 12 hours a day, from 8 am to 8 pm, so there’s no need to stay up all night slotting quarters — both assuring a good nights’ sleep and reducing the prospective rent.

If someone lingers in the bathroom after closing hours, the system governing the rental toilet’s functions would send out a warning signal that the unit is out of order, and will not lock someone for the evening, according to Gabrielle Brussel, executive vice president of JCDecaux North America, which operates the bathrooms.

To date, no one has ever refused to leave a toilet at closing time, Brussel said.

The room’s dimensions clock in at a petite 12-by-6-feet, or 72 square feet, meaning renters would have to economize on space, but at $5-per-square foot, the room is dollar-for-dollar an unbeatable deal in Lower Manhattan’s competitive real estate market, where residential space average closer to $50 a foot, according to real-estate maven Luis Vazquez.

“It’s a very good deal,” conceded Vazquez cautiously, who runs the popular Fidi Fan Page on Facebook.

The city pitched its potty plans to the civic honchos at Community Board 1 on Jan. 23, where members voted to support the proposal, albeit with complaints that the toilet’s sleek, modern design was inappropriate given the architectural context of the historic Manhattan Municipal Building, which was built in the Beaux-Arts style, according to board chairman Anthony Notaro.

“It’s being put right to the south of the municipal building, and if you look at that there’s a lot of wonderful context, but this looks like spaceship,” Notaro said.

The city hasn’t set a date yet for the new toilet’s ribbon cutting, and the project awaits approvals from the Public Design Commission, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Mayor de Blasio before the transit agency can move on it, an agency spokeswoman said.

Nearby subway access further complicates the proposal because — though perhaps a selling point for renters — the underground tunnels require additional surveys to ensure the toilet’s plumbing doesn’t interfere with existing infrastructure, according to the spokeswoman.

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One Response to Squatting rights: City’s Downtown pay toilet could be area’s most affordable housing

  1. What could possibly go wrong?!

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