The 104th Precinct has been cracking down lately on businesses that promote themselves as “spas” but are really fronts for prostitution. The NYPD sends their undercover vice officers in to these businesses to make busts. Two major ones were carried out earlier this year.

As grateful as we are for their perseverance in tackling this quality-of-life problem, the fact of the matter is that undercover manpower is not needed to eliminate these particular operations. There are other ways to go about it that take much less time and logistics.

All legally operating spas and gyms in New York City are required to obtain a special permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals for a “physical cultural establishment”. This process involves a hearing before the local community board. If a business does not have this permit, the Department of Buildings can shut them down for violating zoning regulations. This action does not require proof that prostitution has occurred.

In addition, New York mandates that all masseuses in the state be licensed by a reputable massage therapy school. None of the persons offering massages at these rub joints will have a license. Arrests can be made without proving prostitution, as it is a felony to offer massage services commercially in NYS without a license. In fact, this law was passed expressly to make it easier to eliminate prostitution. Under current New York State law, prostitution in New York is a class “B” misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Under New York Education Law §7801 and §7802, the practice of massage without a license is a class “E” felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison.

These businesses can be shut down for simply failing to produce paperwork. Don’t have it? Then the game is over. If there are repeat arrests at a location, the public nuisance law can be invoked to shut the businesses down permanently. If this is done on a regular basis, we’ll soon see a better class of businesses along our major thoroughfares.