Late-night bar and nightclub noise crackdown: Houston ordinance changes take effect Tuesday

HOUSTON – City of Houston bars, nightclubs, and restaurants within 300 feet of a residence will be required to get a new permit starting Tuesday after “numerous complaints” from people who live near these establishments about excessive late-night noise.

The changes were approved by the Houston City Council in May and take effect Tuesday.

“I was kind of inundated with complaints by people from many areas in Houston,” Houston City Council Member At Large Sallie Alcorn said. “We came to a compromise that I do think will be helpful to residents and will improve quality of life in neighborhoods close to bars.”

Here’s how the noise ordinance is changing:

  • Applies to bars, nightclubs, and restaurants within 300 feet of a residence
  • New permit required to play outdoor amplified sound up to 68 decibels after 10 p.m. Monday – Thursday, after 11 p.m. Friday – Saturday
  • No outdoor amplified sound is allowed between 2-8 a.m.
  • Fine for violations increases from $1,000 to $2,000
  • Permit issued to establishment rather than individual
  • Repeat violators will have to go through an administrative hearing and present a plan to mitigate loud noise going into the neighborhood
  • If the plan isn’t offered, accepted, or implemented, permit could be revoked for up to a year

“We want a robust nighttime economy in Houston – it’s important to us,” Alcorn said. “We’re a city without zoning so bars and nightclubs have to learn to live with the residents that live right next, right by them.”

The administrative hearing is a new method of enforcement, Alcorn said, which will allow the City’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs department to sit down with business owners and figure out solutions, like closing roll-up doors or repositioning speakers.

People who live near bars along the Washington Avenue corridor are cautiously optimistic the changes will improve life in their neighborhood.

“Sure, we moved here knowing that the bars were here, but at the end of the day, they’re neighbors too,” said Stephen Parsons, who lives along Washington Avenue. “We’ve literally had to take pictures off the walls because the sound from the bass is vibrating our walls so much, pictures are falling down.”

Parsons and his girlfriend Amanda have lived there for about three years.

“We knew living in this area, we signed up to live next to the bars. That just comes with living on Washington. We knew where the bars were. I don’t think we ever expected it to be this loud,” Amanda said, noting it’s appeared to get louder as people have returned to post-pandemic activities.

Brinn Miracle lives a block or so removed from Washington Avenue but experiences similar problems.

“If we stood out on our porch at night, it is like an outdoor concert,” she said. “It’s a safety issue. It’s a quality-of-life issue.”

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance released the following statement to KPRC 2:

“On September 6, 2022, a new city of Houston ordinance will go into effect, adding a requirement to purchase additional permits along with new rules for the enforcement of sound for many businesses with TABC permits. This ordinance unfairly targets small business owners in Houston. The men and women who operate these businesses legally obtained and purchased multiple licenses required by the state, county and city and agreed to a set of rules when the businesses were established. The mayor and city council are retroactively punishing these businesses due to complaints from an infinitesimally small but vocal group of residents. Similar versions of these rules and regulations have been adopted in other cities in Texas with universally abysmal results. The new permits and regulations passed will not only be a money grab for the city against struggling small business owners, but only add to the confusion in the enforcement of these rules by an already overtaxed and understaffed HPD whose focus should be on actual crime in an increasingly violent and dangerous city,” TBNA president Michael Klein wrote in the statement.

According to Alcorn, the city already has noise units that patrol areas known for noise and use decibel meters as a method of enforcement. That will continue with the ordinance changes.

The city already has a noise permit, which sets a maximum decibel level for venues within certain hours of the day, but according to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office, the City did not have a specific permit requirement for commercial establishments using sound amplification equipment in the manner described in the new ordinance.

Alcorn and other city leaders are expected to hold a press conference to discuss the changes on Tuesday afternoon.

About the Author:

Bryce Newberry joined KPRC 2 in July 2022. He loves the thrill of breaking news and digging deep on a story that gets people talking.