Illicit massage establishments can act as fronts for human trafficking. Despite this, law enforcement can be denied entry when seeking to investigate due to loopholes in municipal ordinances governing massage establishments.

This toolkit contains all the documents the Mayor’s Office used to work with stakeholders to close loopholes and make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on suspected sex traffickers. Use the resources, tools, and information in this toolkit to develop your own plan to amend ordinances in your city.


On December 2nd, 2015, the Houston City Council unanimously approved amendments to the Massage Establishment Ordinance. Amendments expanded the definition to include those establishments that advertise using massage or other massage services. They also incorporated state regulations concerning right of access into the ordinance, making it easier for officers to write and obtain a warrant in municipal court.

What’s Included

  • Request for Council Action
  • Ordinance Analysis provided by Children At Risk
  • Ordinance – Recital and Final Version
  • Ordinance (Redlined Version)
  • Timeline of Stakeholder Meetings
  • Comparison Grid – Analyzes all the options that were considered in regard to making amendments to the existing massage establishment ordinance. Recommendations for language were based upon policy analyses and feedback from Polaris, Children at Risk, the Houston Police Department, and additional stakeholders. Options that were ultimately selected fit the needs and requirements of Houston.
  • Crime Free Addendum – The City of Houston is starting to require that an anti-crime addendum be attached to commercial lease agreements for those individuals who have been subject to a nuisance abatement.
  • Power Point presentation used before the Public Safety Committee prior to Council’s Vote
  • Video Link to Public Safety Committee Hearing
  • Case Study of Houston’s Efforts by the Polaris Project

Guidelines for Responsible Use

Use the Massage Establishment Ordinance Toolkit in a responsible fashion by following the below guidelines:

  1. We respectfully ask that you do not represent yourself as a City of Houston employee or member of the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking when using the Toolkit’s information and resources.
  2. The documents contained in the Massage Establishment Ordinance Toolkit are not meant to serve as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.
  3. The City of Houston has a strong mayor system, rather than one based on city managers. Consider how to adapt the resources in the Toolkit based on how your municipal government operates.
  4. Consider how to best coordinate your efforts to revise your city’s massage establishment ordinance. The Mayor of Houston has a dedicated Special Advisor on Human Trafficking, who helped to successfully coordinate ordinance changes. Identify a lead individual or agency to spearhead your efforts.
  5. Be aware of the stakeholders to whom you need to present the Toolkit’s resources. Successfully passing revisions to massage establishment ordinances requires the collaboration of council members, as well as external parties, such as professional and accredited massage associations.
  6. Many of the resources in the Toolkit are Houston-specific, such as the scope of the illicit massage establishment problem in Houston. When using these resources, make sure to adapt them to your city’s specific problem.