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HFD stops issuing reopening violations to Houston businesses

“The governor has not been supporting our enforcement efforts,” Fire Chief Sam Pena said.

HOUSTON — The Houston Fire Department is no longer writing violations or tickets to businesses that don’t comply with coronavirus health and occupancy rules, KHOU 11 Investigates has learned.

With the state’s reopening in full swing, complaints of non-compliance continue to pour in.

Since phase one of reopening May 1, HFD has investigated 1,526 complaints submitted to the city’s 311 help line. That is 34% of the 4,460 complaints filed since March 18, when bars and dine-in restaurant business was shut down.

But recently, the department’s occupancy task force shifted its enforcement approach.

“As of May 9, we have not been issuing any citations and we haven’t been issuing any notices of violation,” said Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena.

The department had written a total of 10 citations and a 150 “notices of violation,” which are essentially warnings. But that all changed shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott intervened in the jailing of a Dallas hair salon owner.

“The governor has not been supporting our enforcement efforts,” Pena said.

The fire chief also wants Houstonians to continue to call 311 if they see something wrong. A task force of 20 investigators goes out every day to check out complaints.

Pena said that punishing business owners has not been the goal from the very beginning of the COVID-19 emergency orders; rather, education and information has been the driver for compliance.

“For the most part, people have been voluntarily complying with our approach,” Pena said. “And that’s what we want.”