Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rice Village Has Had a Whorehouse In It
Does this look like a whorehouse to you?

This one comes from the Village News (June 9, 2009) via the ever-vigilant Swamplot.
It seems a nondescript commercial building at the corner of Sunset and Morningside was, until recently, a whorehouse! "Johns" may be sad to see the Southampton brothel close, but the neighborhood is glad to see the nuisance gone.

The location of the Asian Massage Villa, 2401 Sunset [...] appeared vacant after a notice of eviction was served by the property owner.

Asian Massage Villa Was at 2401 Sunset, but its little door was around the side and towards the back on Morningside. There was no sign, just a lighted doorway and some stickers indicating donations to emergency responders.

In the past year there have been at least three arrests for prostitution listed in the HPD calls for service, and several other vice investigations at the address.

Last August, Village News reported on Asian Massage Villa having an arrest for prostitution, but in order to clase a shop you have to show a pattern.
Isn't this weird? With drug forfeiture laws, you don't even have to be proven guilty before the cops can seize your property. But with brothels, the police must show that there is actual repeated crimes there, not one-off episodes. And quite rightly so. It should be difficult for the cops to seize your property.
After HPD gathered evidence of a pattern of prostitution, city attorneys talked to the owner of the property about evicting the offending Asian Massage Villa, informing the owner that a lawsuit could be filed on the grounds of statutory nuisance. The property owner cooperated and issued a three day eviction notice.
Now isn't this interesting--instead of doing what they did with The Penthouse Club and All Stars Men's Club, where the now enforcible sexually oriented business (SOB) licensing law was invoked, the city just leaned on the owner. Why?

My theory is this. Once the city has established a pattern (with repeated busts for prostitution), in order to close a SOB, they have to file a lawsuit against it. The penalty is not only does the business close, but the location can't be used for anything for a year--regardless of who the owner is! (The SOB also has to pay the legal fees for the city.) But this is a long, expensive process for the city, with no guarantee of victory. So it made sense to probably threaten the owner of the property at 2701 Sunset with a SOB licensing lawsuit. The city attorneys probably said, "Look, we know you aren't running this whorehouse. You just made a bad decision about who to rent to. But if you don't evict those people, we will sue them--and when we win, you will not be able to rent that place for a year. So play along, pally."

So why didn't they just threaten Anargyros G. Mylonas, the owner (according to HCAD) of the Penthouse Club and All Star's Men's Club? Because the really want to punish him and more important, prevent him from opening another strip club somewhere else in Houston. The way this law is set up, by removing the possibility of commercial use for the property for a year, the owner is likely to be driven into bankruptcy (or at least have his capital tied up for a year). That way, you don't have the SOB popping up somewhere else under a new name.

So with the Asian Massage Villa, the city seems to have taken the easy, quick route to closing the business (with the risk that it will reopen somewhere else relatively quickly), whereas with the Penthouse Club and All Star's Men's Club, they took the difficult, lengthy lawsuit route, which probably puts Mylonas out of business (this business, at least) for good. I am only guessing about the city's strategy, but I suspect they figured using the maximum approach with two highly visible SOBs was more cost-efficient than using the same approach for the discreet neighborhood whorehouse.

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