The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. One does not need to walk too far these days down any major commercial avenue in our communities before coming across a day spa or massage parlor. We began to notice this trend about 3-4 years ago as one after another massage parlor opened. These storefronts have strategically obstructed windows so you cannot see inside of the business. They have changed the landscape of our neighborhoods.
Allow us to give you a look at this problem from our vantage point. These businesses need a special permit for a certificate of occupancy from the DOB that establishes their use of the premises as a 'physical culture' or 'health establishment', similar to gyms and tanning salons. This permit can take up to 6 months to acquire at an estimated cost of $50,000.00. If not, they are operating as an 'adult physical culture establishment' which is not permitted anywhere in NYC according to the zoning law.It is also important to note that in order to become a licensed massage therapist in NY, an individual must graduate from a school or institute of massage therapy after completion of 1000 hours of education in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, infection control procedures, as well as pass the NYS licensing exam. We feel confident that most of these massage parlors that open by renting retail storefronts and converting office space are operating without the proper NYS license to practice massage in addition to operating without the proper certificate of occupancy.
New York State legislators since 2007 have become very proactive in their efforts to curb human trafficking in New York State (Gov. Cuomo declared this year that January is human trafficking awareness month). According to their own report (New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, August, 2008), New York's Human Trafficking Law recognizes that the demand for prostitution drives the supply of victims; the report also found that human trafficking victims have been found in brothels, massage parlors, escort services, sweatshops, and restaurants. Even NYC Police Commissioner Bratton has acknowledged that massage parlors are fronts for prostitution (Brooklyn Eagle, 10/07/2015).
While our legislators in the state houses are passing these wonderfully written laws, citizens living in Queens (the apex for sex trafficking in NYC) are living the reality of our communities being taken over by massage parlors and being told that law enforcement is our best option in fighting this epidemic. The work the men and women in blue do everyday is incredible. However, it is unrealistic to think that they can solve this rapidly growing problem alone. Why is the onus on the City and its enforcement agencies to prove that places are not properly permitted or licensed? Why is the responsibility not placed squarely on the business to produce proof of permit and licensure and if unable to, be shut down immediately?
Presented are some ordinances we think the city council should pass to put an end to this criminal enterprise:
- Obtain a yearly license from the county clerk's office. Require an application fee as well as information from the owner/manager such as their fingerprints and two photos.
-Licenses are not granted unless the business has passed inspection by the building and health departments.
-Therapists must wear nontransparent clothing such as a white lab coat at all times.
-Clients' genitalia must be covered in the presence of therapists.
-Spas may only operate between the hours of 9AM-9PM.
-They must maintain a certain level of natural or artificial light inside the establishment.
Random inspections should be permitted by the NYPD and NYC Dept. of Health to ensure requirements are followed. If they are found non-compliant their license (if there is one) would be revoked and the business fined. If there is no license present, the spa should be immediately shut down and padlocked by the NYC Dept. of Health for code violations and only reopened once a license is present and all violations have been corrected. These types of ordinances are already set in place for restaurants, bars, and nail salons. Why are these 'spas' exempt?
These 'spas' are open from 9AM-2AM, 7 days a week. People come from other neighborhoods to utilize the services offered. They are open within 200 feet of schools and other places children frequent in our communities. Is this really the legacy we want to leave our next generation? Please call your local officials and demand some common sense changes.