New Ordinance Questions Just How Loud Is Too Loud

Last October, the city of Houston revised its sound ordinance — a law which hadn't been touched since 1998. The intention is to help the Houston Police Department enforce the law, but club owners, DJs and audio engineers don't quite see it that way.


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That’s what a popular club on Washington Avenue sounds like — from the sidewalk. Areas near bars and clubs like Washington Avenue can be enticing for some, but they also come with a problem: noise. Stephen Barth lives right behind two well-known clubs in the Montrose area.

“What the bar owners seem to not want to understand is that bass resonance and sound is every bit as much of a physical disturbance as spitting or throwing dirt on somebody else. It keeps people awake at night”

The biggest conflict with the new ordinance is the addition of the “plainly audible” standard which is used when determining if the base frequency is too loud.

Chris Newport is with the City of Houston.

“If you’re playing music on your property and I stand say outside of your fence or in the street and I can feel the bass that’s being produced on your property then that’s something that’s not acceptable.”

That sounds like a pretty straight forward standard — so why all the fuss? Joshua Sanders is with the Greater Houston Entertainment Political Action Committee which works as a liaison between clubs and the community.

“It gives HPD the ability to make a subjective call on whether or not they think the bass level reading is too high. So now an officer can show up to a venue and/or establishment and make a subjective call on whether or not he thinks the music is too loud.”

And the fines — ranging from $50 to 1,000 — can be given to the DJ, the sound engineer and anyone the officer feels is responsible, not just the venue.

Mariana Lemesoff is owner of Avant Garden, a bar and music venue that was ticketed once in 16 years. But since October that number’s risen to 15.

“One of the tickets we’ve gotten we had an act, a small dance piece that was one song in the patio and the police came two hours later when this act had finished and gave us a ticket without even hearing the noise.”

While Avant Garden’s ticket number has been on the rise, HPD’s Sgt. Mike Hill says the department’s numbers tell a different story.

“We have been charged by city council to monitor the number of citations that are issued. And the first three months the ordinance was in effect citywide the citations written for noise violations were down.”

Joshua Sanders with the Greater Houston Entertainment PAC says the new ordinance really comes down to how loud is too loud and that’s a gray area. Sanders’ says the city has been very responsive to their concerns. He hopes this will lead to a revision and a more clearly defined ordinance. 


This story was voiced by Ed Mayberry and written by Anna Fisher.