HOUSTON - Houston Fire Marshals have had a busy year responding to Coronavirus occupancy complaints. So far, they’ve received more than 10,000 complaints involving businesses in Houston since mid-March.
“[We’re] not popular,” said HFD Investigator Eric Olivares. “However, we want to educate people. We want to keep people safe. We want to stop the spread.”
We’re told Houston Fire Marshals only investigate complaints that are called in to 311. On average, they receive about 80 “social distancing” complaints a day.
Currently, Texas law limits restaurants to half-capacity while bars and clubs must remain closed. In a “ride-along” Saturday night, Olivares showed FOX 26 how they respond to complaints involving bars and restaurants.
“What we’re looking for is that right there,” said Olivares pointing to a permit. “It’s red, it’s considered a bar, we’re not going to shut [it] down, but we’re going to refer them to TABC.”
After further investigation, Olivares discovered that Rose Gold Cocktail Den had actually recently applied for a blue permit, to operate as a restaurant. So they’re allowed to remain open to half-capacity.
“With the blue, you’re allowed to be open, but you’ve got to watch your [occupancy] numbers,” said Olivares to the manager Rose Gold Cocktail Den.
“It does look like a club,” said Olivares. “We have to go with what TABC presented though. It’s a restaurant. I see them cooking. They have a commercial kitchen.”
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Then, a second complaint was called-in regarding “Pour Behavior”. However, after responding to the location, fire marshals say all of the permits were good and the total occupancy was within limitations.
“Social distancing is in place, people have their masks on,” said Olivares. “That’s being a responsible owner.”
Despite passing all recent inspections, some businesses do receive more complaints than others. “Pour Behavior” was listed on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s “Wall of Shame” in June. According to partial owner Josh Reiner, he attributes their high number of complaints to a small parking lot.
“Houston Fire Marshals have been here 25 or 30 times since May,” said Reiner. “It looks like when you drive by that ‘oh, that place is partying,’ it’s crazy. But our capacity is a little over 1,100.”
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Houston Fire Marshals only investigate complaints that are called-in. If you have a business you’re worried about, you can call 311.
“We don’t care if they don’t like us,” said Olivares. “We’re trying to help somebody. We’re in the game of helping people.”