Are your children playing in a safe 'bounce house?'

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by Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on November 18, 2013 at 11:47 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 12:51 PM

You see them at birthday parties, carnivals and at fairs.

You know those jumpy things that kids like to play in, also known as “bounce houses."

Well, read this before you let your child go in one again because the KHOU 11 News I-Team has discovered some of the bounce house businesses in town need to be shut down.

When you think of a bounce house, you think of fun.

“Go, go,” said a young man setting up a bounce house at a park in Liberty.

“You get away from me,” he told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.

Why was he upset we were there?

Because the I-Team just caught him operating a bounce house illegally.

See, just minutes earlier, while wearing a hidden camera, we went undercover and met the mother and son team operating as the company known as “3 x the Fun Moonwalks. “

We previously made an appointment to rent a bounce house in the shape of a castle.

KHOU 11 News: “This is the castle, yes?”

‘3 X the Fun Moonwalks’: “Yes.”

KHOU 11 News: “Anything we need to know? To do or not do? “

‘3 X the Fun Moonwalks’: “Watch the kids while they’re in it.”

So we closed the deal.

KHOU 11 News: “Ok, this is $120, ok?”

‘3 X the Fun Moonwalks’: “I have the change.”

The only problem with all of this is state records show ‘3 X The Fun Moonwalks’ has no business doing business because they aren’t certified.

So, it was time to tell them we’re the KHOU 11 News I-Team and ask them a few questions.

KHOU 11 News: “Are you certified to have one of these? Do you have a license from the State?”

‘3 X the Fun Moonwalks’: “Um, we’re in the process of getting one.”

They packed up and drove away.

A lot of parents don’t realize that more kids than ever are getting injured in bounce houses. They also don’t know that you need certification to operate a bounce house business which is a classified as an amusement ride.

“I never really thought about that,” said father-of-two Channing Valdez.

But when we explained why it’s required, it was an eye opener for parents.

“That needs to be a top priority,” said parent and now grandparent Fran Smith.

To be state certified, operators must have a $1 million insurance policy.

But, even more important, each house must be safety inspected at least once a year.

“Kids could get hurt so severely,” bounce house inspector Jose Aguilar told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.

Aguilar said a hole in the side netting or in the vinyl itself could lead to serious injuries and if bounce houses aren’t inspected he fears children are in danger.

“If it’s not firm, what will happen is a lot of kids will pile up here. It will flip over if they are not staked down properly, the whole unit could flip,” said Aguilar. “You have a busted lip, busted nose, cuts here, and cuts there.”

And, Aguilar says there is also the issue of cleanliness.

“It’s one of the biggest issues people here in Houston have,” he said. “Dirtiness.”

Glynn Barclay of Glynn Barclay & Associates inspects all types of amusement rides. He’s believes more than 80 percent of bounce house operators aren’t compliant with state law although that is an estimate not an exact number.

“Some have no idea the law exists,” said Barclay. “I think there are two or three things that have occurred. Number one, people just don’t do their homework and they don’t check on the Internet or with the industry that they are getting into or their insurance agent as to what the requirements might be.”

The Texas Department of Insurance or TDI regulates and monitors the bounce house industry and says they have identified this issue as a concern.

“It is a challenge to keep up with,” said TDI public information officer Jerry Hagins. “It is something we’re monitoring.

If TDI learns about a rogue company, Hagins says they will send a letter telling the operator that they’re out of compliance.

J’s Moonwalks out of Baytown received that letter in March of 2011, but when the I-Team went to rent one in November of 2013 they were open for business.

We paid them a visit undercover and rented a bounce house that looked like a police cruiser.

KHOU 11 News: “So this is the police car?

J’s Moonwalks: “Yes m ‘am.”

KHOU 11 News: “Is it easy to use?”

J’s Moonwalks: “Yeah, you just have to lay it out.”

And then it was time to lay out we were the KHOU 11 News I-Team.

KHOU 11 News: “Are you in compliance?”

Becki Trevino: “No, I’m not.”

KHOU 11 News: “Why are you renting them out to people?”

Becki Trevino: “Because I have them.”

So what about those safety inspections?

KHOU 11 News: “Have you been inspected? Have any of these bounce houses, moonwalks, anything been inspected?”

Becki Trevino: “No. They have not been inspected.”

What she did not have was the type of insurance required by the State although she said she had other policies that might cover any possible accidents.

Trevino later told the KHOU 11 News I-Team that she will shut down.

“It’s the law. It’s required and punishable by fines and prison time, it’s a serious issue,” said Hagins.

And those fines are $2,000 a day and jail time of up to six months in jail if convicted of the Class B misdemeanor charge.

Local law enforcement has the right to shut them down if the owners aren’t in compliance.

The TDI says it is now looking at the businesses we found operating without certification.

“We will notify them immediately. We’ll send them a letter of non-compliance and an information packet telling them exactly what they need to do, but that will happen right away,” Hagins told the I-Team.

While TDI monitors and regulates the industry, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcement.

“Since 2011 we have referred over 220 cases to the Attorney General’s Office and we understand over 130 are closed because they came into compliance or they ceased operations,” said Hagins.

Hagins says there have been talks about increasing the enforcement authority of the Texas

Department of Insurance or having another state agency regulate the industry, but that decision would be up to state legislators.

So how can you know if the bounce house operator you are renting from is compliant?

First, check out the database for amusement ride operators on the website for the Texas Department of Insurance. Click here to find all operators that are compliant.

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