HOUSTON - Nothing is more inviting on a hot summer day than a refreshing dip in a pool. But before you and your family jump into a public or semi-public pool, you want to know that it is clean and safe.
Texas law allows, but doesn't require, counties and municipalities to permit pools and conduct pool inspections.
Channel 2 Investigates found a patchwork of inspection practices, depending on the county or community.
Agencies such as the Houston Health Department, Harris County Environmental Health and the Galveston County Health District perform annual inspections and permitting, while Fort Bend and Montgomery county's health departments don't provide regular inspections -- however, they do investigate complaints about pools.
Many cities such as Katy inspect and permit pools at the time of construction, but don't conduct annual inspections.
Other communities like Baytown do permitting and annual safety inspections.
To know whether, and how often, your favorite public or semi-public pool is inspected, check with your city hall or county health department.
So, just what does it mean for a pool to be "public" or "semi-public"?
It's the pools operated by apartments, condos or town home communities, hotels and motels, water parks, community associations or homeowners associations, schools and day cares, fitness clubs and nursing homes, as well as churches, parks and camps.
In other words, just about everything that isn't a backyard pool is considered public or semi-public.
Channel 2 Investigates found that agencies don't use identical check lists when inspecting pools, but they are checking for essentially the same things.
Inspectors check water quality to ensure the chemicals used are keeping the water clean, and not causing you and your kids eye or skin irritation.
They're looking to make sure gates to pool areas self-latch and have working locks, that fencing around pools doesn't have gaps kids can squeeze through, and that drains have proper covers and cut-off valves to prevent people from getting sucked in and trapped underwater.
They also make sure signs such as, "No Lifeguard on Duty" meet standards -- and that depth markers and no-diving warnings are the proper size and in the proper places.
Pools that fail inspections can be ordered closed until problems are fixed.
In just the first six month of this year, Houston's Health Department ordered 819 different pools closed until violations were corrected. In 2017, the department ordered a total of 1,724 pools closed until they were repaired and reinspected.
If the pool operator allows people to use the pool while it is under a closure notice, or if the closure sign is taken down before a reinspection verifies repairs were made, the operator can be cited.
The citation carries a fine of $524 if the violator just pays the ticket. If a pool operator chooses to go to court to fight the citation and loses, fines can then range from $250 to $2,000.
Following its June 8 inspection of The America’s Inn, at 10552 Southwest Freeway in Houston, the pool was ordered closed by the Houston Health Department.
Officials found violations involving the pool area’s emergency call phone, maintenance records and water quality. On June 26, Channel 2 Investigates found no closure notice posted -- and the pool was open for the hotel’s guests.
The day after our visit, the Houston Health Department sent an inspector out to see whether corrections had been made. The violations it noted on its previous visit had been corrected, allowing the pool to reopen.
As Channel 2 Investigates culled through the records, we found water parks and municipal pools didn't have many violations.
In fact, more than half of Houston's city pools had no violations at all during 2018 inspections.
Houston's Health Department checks the city's 37 municipal pools each March, so if problems are found, there is time to make corrections before pools open for the season.
The most common issues that needed correction before pools could open this year included: rough pool surfaces that needed replastering to prevent foot injuries, gaps in fences requiring repairs, and water pH levels that needed adjustment to bring the water into the proper range.
Apartments and condos make up a large percentage of the pools that get inspected, so it isn't surprising that two apartment complexes racked up the highest number of violations in Houston so far this year.
The Summer Cove Apartments at 725 FM 1959 top the list with 75 violations.
Manager Brandy Ross told Channel 2 Investigates that Portico Management bought the property last December, knowing the pools needed lots of work.
She said corrections required replacing drain systems, pumps and filters in the complexes pools.
The city has already allowed all but one pool on the property to reopen.
Ross anticipates getting a reinspection and final signoff likely by the first week of July for the one pool that's still under a closure notice.
The Thicket Apartments at 13011 Northborough Drive had 71 violations, including issues with pool yard fences and gates, water circulation systems and pool drain covers that prevent people from getting trapped underwater.
Pools at the complex are under closure orders by the Houston Health Department until repairs are completed and it passes reinspections.
An office worker from the complex told Channel 2 Investigates that the complex is working on a list from the city of required repairs.
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