The City of Houston has put stricter rules in place for businesses that operate as after-hours Bring Your Own Beverage establishments, also known as BYOB, and are not licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The new rules are aimed at keeping residents safe and cracking down on crime often associated with those establishments.
Houston City Council approved a new ordinance on Wednesday that establishes rules and safety regulations for after-hours businesses operating as BYOB. During a joint Public Safety and Quality of Life meeting last month, the Houston Police Department said there had been a recent increase in criminal activity around bars, clubs and sexual-oriented businesses, particularly after 2 a.m. when it’s illegal to sell alcohol.
A report from HPD showed over 2,000 calls related to those establishments in the first three months of this year, creating public safety concerns for nearby residents.
"This is not an attempt to close anybody," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "This is an effort to try to create a safer environment, a safer venue, for those who are attending these businesses at that time, and are staying there past a certain time."
Turner said there has been an increase in criminal activity, including aggravated assaults and shootings, taking place in clubs or the parking lots of those establishments after 2:15 a.m..
Moving forward, businesses like bars, clubs and sexually-oriented businesses that want to operate as BYOB will have to obtain an operating permit. Businesses will also have to comply with a number of rules, submit fingerprints and undergo a criminal background check by the FBI and DPS. They will also have to submit a site and floor plan, a security plan and post signage at each entrance that reads “BYOB Establishment."
Not all of the council members were on board with the ordinance. Council Member Michael Kubosh initially wanted to delay the item for a week because of concerns about unintended consequences the new ordinance could have on the city.
"I want to make sure that we don’t get into any litigation because I was told we’d probably get into litigation almost immediately, and I’d rather not do that," Kubosh said.
He ultimately released his tag after other council members spoke about the importance of getting the ordinance in place.
"What this does is for those that are not getting a permit, that are not getting a certificate of occupancy, that don’t have security guards, and when they don’t have security guards than HPD is having to bear that burden," said District C Council Member Abbie Kamin, who is also chair of the Public Safety Committee. "The frustration that you hear is because this is an issue that we have been told not only by residents, but by law enforcement, legal and departments that we need to take action to curb this and address the public safety issues related to this that are very, very real."
District J Council Member Edward Pollard's district includes a number of businesses that are hot spots for criminal activity early in the morning.
"We have to be on the side of those in our community, who are calling, who are reaching out, who are saying these after hours spots are creating chaos in our neighborhoods, loud noise, gunshots, serving alcohol to minors, serving alcohol beyond 2 a.m.," Pollard said. "We have the opportunity as a body now to put forth this language that will be able to keep our communities safer."
The state does not have rules that regulate BYOB establishments. Houston does have some restaurants that allow customers to bring their own alcohol even without a TABC license. The Texas Restaurant Association said it has little impact on its members because most of its restaurants don't operate after midnight and only a small percentage of them operate as BYOB.
"For the most part, we really didn't see that this particular ordinance was going to have much of any impact on the restaurants here in town," said Melissa Steward, Senior Executive Director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.
The ordinance goes into effect immediately, but the city is giving businesses a 30-day grace period to educate them on the new rules and regulations.