Houston Sexually Oriented Business Attorney

Although Houston is famous for not having traditional zoning regulations, that does not mean the City never uses its regulatory powers to favor or disfavor certain types of businesses. During the tenure of former mayor Bill White, Houston adopted ordinances designed to severely restrict “sexually oriented businesses” (SOBs) such as strip clubs. These rules expose individual managers and employees of an SOB to potential criminal liability for violations.

At the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, our Houston sexually oriented business attorneys defend owners, managers, dancers, strippers, and other individuals charged with violating local ordinances–and potentially other crimes, such as prostitution. Even though adult businesses may be a popular target for politicians, you still have rights. We will work to make sure the police and the district attorney’s office do not railroad you just so they can look tough on unpopular or controversial businesses.

What Constitutes a “Sexually Oriented Business”?

Chapter 28, Article III of the Houston Code of Ordinances contains the City’s rules for sexually oriented businesses. While we usually talk about SOBs in reference to strip clubs, the ordinances cover any business that is “intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to its customers” through an emphasis on “sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.” Among the types of SOBs mentioned:

  • Adult Bookstores
  • Adult Cabarets (strip clubs)
  • Adult Encounter Parlors
  • Adult Lounges (strip clubs licensed to sell alcoholic beverages)
  • Adult Modeling Studios
  • Adult Movie Theaters

All covered SOBs require a permit from the City of Houston to lawfully operate, which must be renewed annually. The ordinances specify a number of conditions that would prevent the issuance or renewal of a permit. For example, a SOB cannot be located within “1,500 feet of any school, church, public park, or licensed day-care center.” Nor can their be two SOBs, of any type, within 1,000 feet of one another. Sexually oriented businesses may also not operate within predominantly residential neighborhoods, i.e. where “75 percent or more of the tracts within a circular area” are “residential in character.”

In addition to the SOB itself, any persons who work as “managers or entertainers” on the premises must apply for a separate permit. In this context an “entertainer” usually means a performer at a strip club or an adult cabaret. Under Section 28-258 of the Houston ordinances, a licensed entertainer may not “touch a customer or the clothing of a customer while engaging in entertainment.” In fact, nude and semi-nude dancers must stay at least three feet away from the customers at all times during a performance. Nor can an employee expose himself or herself to a customer in any “separate area” of the business, such as a “VIP room.”

What Are the Penalties for Violating SOB Rules?

Section 243.010 of the Texas Local Government Code states that any violation of a city ordinance, which includes Houston’s rules governing sexually oriented businesses, is a Class A misdemeanor. If tried and convicted, the accused faces a fine of up to $4,000 and/or one year in jail. It is important to understand that owners and managers can also be held criminally liable under SOB rules if they allow unlicensed employees to work in their business, or if individual entertainers violate the performance restrictions.

What Rules Apply in Harris County?

Separate from Houston’s ordinances, Harris County has its own sexually oriented business rules that apply within the unincorporated portions of the county. The county rules are similar to those of the city. One thing to note is that all individuals working in a SOB require a separate permit, including waiters, bartenders, and any security staff.

In addition, state law permits Harris County to regulate “massage parlors,” which refers to businesses where nude employees provide massages, engage in “sexual contact” for a fee, or provide any other services “intended to arouse or gratify the sexual desire” of a customer. The county may fine any violators up to $1,000 a day–and any intentional violation can be prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor.

We Help Houston Adult Entertainment Workers Charged With Criminal Offenses

Many honest people work in the adult entertainment business. They just want to earn a living and support their families. Unfortunately, the city and county’s rules often give police a pretext to conduct undercover operations in an attempt to discover technical violations of the law. If you find yourself caught up in such a sting, you need to speak with an experienced Houston sexually oriented business attorney who understands the Texas criminal justice system. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in today at (713) 802-1631 to schedule a consultation with our Houston criminal defense lawyers.