Houston council puts brakes on auto repair shop rules

Dec. 12, 2011Zain Shauk, Houston Chronicle

Regulations that would require automotive repair shops to get written permission before making costly repairs stalled in the Houston City Council on Wednesday amid confusion about the implications of the proposal.

Mayor Annise Parker and Houston Police Department officials touted the changes as consumer protections to prevent Houstonians from getting stuck with hefty bills for repair work they never sought or approved.

Council members voted to delay consideration of the proposal for at least two weeks after a two-hour discussion in which some council members questioned whether there is a significant enough problem with automotive-related businesses to require changes to city ordinance. Others expressed what they said were concerns from business owners who said the changes would require them to make costly upgrades and could force them to close down.

The proposal would require an automotive repair shop to obtain a signature of approval before performing work if the estimated cost of completing the job changes by more than $100. Customers could waive that requirement and instead offer verbal consent to any price changes.

Parker, who attempted to push forward with a vote after several requests to delay a decision, said after the meeting that many of the concerns about the proposals were based on misinformation.

Councilman James Rodriguez said a delay in the vote would allow him to better solicit feedback from constituents.

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones said several repair shop owners told her they would face the burden of making major facility upgrades as a result of proposals that they said were too broad and could force them out of business.

“I think we’re using a cannonball to swat a fly when we could use a flyswatter,” Jones said. “I believe it to be an overregulation on business.”

The proposal does not include any fee increases or requirements for facility upgrades, said Houston Police Department Sgt. Michael Provost, who helped develop the revisions.

Requirements for specific equipment and features, such as solid walls and fencing, have been in the city’s code for more than 20 years and have not been changed, Provost said. Fee increases for automotive business licenses were approved by council a year ago and were not included in the current proposal, he added.

“There is nothing tacked onto it that would make anyone spend more money,” Provost said.

Concern over fees

Councilman C.O. Bradford said the proposal was flawed because it would limit the amount that businesses could charge for administrative and teardown fees.

“I’m concerned what’s going to be next when it comes to this type of overreaching,” he said.

Provost said that discussions with businesses had produced no reasonable answer for administrative fees above the city’s proposed $50 cap. Some businesses had charged as much as $500 to file paperwork.

Another provision would require businesses to comply with published industry standards for teardown fees, which are incurred when parts of a vehicle are removed to observe damage.