Houston updates its noise ordinance

This was probably inevitable, though it sure took a long time.

Houston bars, nightclubs and restaurants must obtain new permits to play amplified music within 120 days under a revised ordinance aimed at cracking down on disruptive late-night noise without sacrificing the city’s vibrant nightlife.

City Council approved amendments to the noise ordinance in a 15-1 vote Wednesday, two years after council members first began considering ways to address disputes between homeowners and neighboring businesses. Complaints against bars and clubs nearly doubled in the first three months of 2022.

The revamped noise ordinance sets stricter limits on nighttime noise and requires businesses abutting homes to obtain permits to play amplified music. It also creates a new administrative hearing process for bars and nightclubs that violate noise limits, giving business owners the chance to craft a mitigation plan within 10 days of the violation or risk losing their commercial sound permits for up to a year.

The permit will cost business owners $1,200.

Permitted businesses can play amplified music up to 75 decibels, which is about as loud as landscaping equipment, until 10 p.m. on weeknights or 11 p.m. on weekends. After those cutoffs, music would have to stay below 58 decibels until 2 a.m., as measured from the property of any resident who calls the Houston Police Department to complain.

At-Large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn, who shepherded the rule changes to the vote, said the amendments target repeat violators that “flaunt the rules” and are “destroying quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“These changes aim to strengthen current rules and bring more businesses into compliance,” Alcorn said Wednesday.


Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, council members did not discuss the city’s shifting demographics or the apparent connection between gentrification and increased noise complaints. Under the ordinance, enforcement largely will rely on nonemergency calls for service or 311 complaints, a feature experts said may lead to inequitable treatment among neighborhoods.

The changes moved ahead over objections from At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh, the sole dissenting vote. Kubosh said he worried it will have little impact while overburdening police officers with enforcement.

“Where is the actual solution here?” Kubosh said after the vote. “Why would we tie up police with noise when they are busy responding to murders, aggravated assaults and people stealing catalytic converters?”

Not mentioned in this story and forgotten about by me until I went looking in my archives is that Council had passed an update to the noise ordinance back in 2011 that was aimed at big vibrating bass sounds, as well as making the language of the ordinance more specific. It did not have an auspicious debut, though perhaps by now it has been more successful in its application. Noise complaints in various gentrifying parts of the city, especially but not exclusively the Washington Avenue corridor, have been a thing for a long time. I’ve expressed some skepticism in the past towards the complainers on the grounds that the noisy bars and music venues were there first, but after all this time I think this approach makes sense. Maybe we can at least get some consistency, so that everyone knows and understands the rules from the beginning.

As for CM Kubosh’s complaint regarding enforcement, he has a point but the same thing could be said about literally any other law. I would not make noise enforcement a top priority for HPD, but I can think of some things above which it should be elevated. CultureMap has more.

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4 Responses to Houston updates its noise ordinance

  1. C.L. says:

    “The changes moved ahead over objections from At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh, the sole dissenting vote. Kubosh said he worried it will have little impact while overburdening police officers with enforcement.”

    That’s awesome. The same Kubosh family who were so instrumental in getting the red light cameras removed (which had previously ‘underburdened’ the police force) are now concerned with overburdening the police force who are responding to citizen’s complaint about the noises coming from a bar, nightclub, or restaurant.

    That’s rich.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    C.L. the cameras were not under burdening the police force, because the police weren’t out enforcing the traffic signals. I suppose it did prevent some accidents, which reduced their having to respond to crashes, but overall, crashes are way up in the city.

    at the end of the day, the camera contract was a big giveaway to some company, and the city attorneys were not competent enough to put a termination for convenience clause into the contract, so the city was on the hook for the full amount. Even I am capable enough to put a termination for convenience clause into any government contract. Yet, the city never asks me for help when I offer, free of charge, to help them.

  3. Emily Patterson says:

    I get very frustrated by the “why did you move next to a bar” response. The issue is not that people moved next to loud bars and thus assumed the risk. In many cases, including where I live, the homes were there long before the bars. Sometimes 100 years before the bars. And it doesn’t matter who came first. There are laws governing noise. These bars consistently violate those laws. They should be held accountable, but they have not been.

    I don’t want a quiet neighborhood; that’s why I live in the city. But when I’m in my bathroom with the door closed and can still hear the words of the songs being played from the bar across the street, it’s too loud. Another person in my neighborhood who lives next to an even louder bar (in a building constructed in the 1960s, before the bars showed up) has to take her mattress into the bathroom to sleep. The bar across the street from me essentially enters my house uninvited and plays its own music.

    Bars are also generally louder now than they were in the past as they now have easier access to commercial grade speakers. I don’t want the bars closed. I just want them to turn the music down. I go to bars often. They’re not all a problem. People who don’t live near one of the problem bars don’t realize how loud and disruptive they can be.

    I support the amendments, but they are not enough. Bars can still produce 75 decibels of noise on my property. That is insanely loud and seriously undermines my ability to use my home for things like sleeping and talking to my partner.

    As for noise enforcement, it should most definitely be given a higher priority. We lose days of sleep and consequently days of work because of the jerks across the street. There are significant societal costs to the noise these places produce. All the bars need to do is turn the music down. They can still do all the other things they do. A brief period of strict enforcement – including revocation of noise permits – might just set the standard we need for respecting your neighbors.

  4. C.L. says:

    Emily, the next time (CoH) Zoning is placed on the local ballot, you should vote ‘YES !”.

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