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City Ordinances Facing Societal, Technological Changes: Robot Brothels and SOBs

The City of Houston was recently in the news for a rather unusual reason. A robot brothel was set to open its doors in the heart of the city.

A Canadian company which already operates an “adult love dolls rent before you buy service” in Toronto attempted to open a Houston location. Even a few years ago, the thought of a robot brothel was almost laughable. This is the type of thing that only exists in futuristic flicks or sci-fi shows like Westworld.

The truth is, technology is advancing so quickly that science fiction is rapidly becoming reality in many respects. This firm previously wrote a blog about regulations regarding drones. Drones are yet another example of technology that 10 years ago essentially didn’t exist; yet now, they’re so commonplace that state, federal, and local governments had no choice but to address them.

But surely there’s some sort of law against operating a robot brothel, right? After all, prostitution is illegal. The Texas Penal Code addresses prostitution, in pertinent part, as follows:

Tex. Penal Code § 43.02. Prostitution

(b) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly offers or agrees to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with that person or another.

Notably, the statute only applies when there are two (or more) persons involved. There’s no specific restriction against leasing a mechanized playmate for the evening. So, what about city regulations? Many cities control the locations of these types of businesses through Sexually Oriented Business regulations, commonly referred to as SOBs.

Houston already had a chapter in its code of ordinances regulating SOBs, but understandably, the drafters of these provisions didn’t anticipate a sex robot invasion. Naturally, this particular breed of business wasn’t specifically addressed under Houston’s code.

In fact, a robot brothel didn’t fit under any of their current definitions or restrictions. Last month, Houston City council addressed the issue by voting to change some definitions and regulations within the city’s code.

In the past, communities have mostly been reactionary when it comes to these types of issues. After all, why regulate something that’s never been a problem? Perhaps equally important, how do you ensure that your city is protected against a problem that does not yet exist, or hasn’t even been invented?

These are difficult questions, and for many, present real concerns. Some cities are taking action before a potential matter is knocking at their door. Take the City of Tyler, for example: their city zoning commission met in October to address the possibility of a robot brothel in their community. While there’s no such business imminently set to open its doors within Tyler’s city limits, officials wanted to address the issue before an automated bordello arrived. Like Houston, Tyler already had regulations on SOBs in their community. But, also like Houston, robot brothels do not fit under any of their current definitions or restrictions. The Tyler City Council hopes to close the gap in their regulations before the promiscuous robots come to town.

The bottom line is that new and changing technology can exploit loopholes in the law that cities didn’t even know existed. The rate of new innovations seems to be increasing every year, and there’s no sign of slowing down. With respect to future technological changes, communities and city officials have to work together to anticipate what lies ahead.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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