Township cracks down on massage

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

The massage parlor business is under more scrutiny after the Independence Township Board voted unanimously, Dec. 17, to approve first reading of new regulations.
“This came about because of occurrences in this township and other municipalities that indicate the spread of criminal action, including human trafficking, in Oakland County,” said Prosecuting Attorney Peter Keenan, who handles all the misdemeanor cases for the township at 52-2 District Court.
The law needs to tighten up after recent illegal and immoral activity at area parlors, Keenan said at the meeting. “There are many newspaper articles about what’s occurred in Walled Lake and in Ferndale and, unfortunately, during this past year, there have been two incidents of criminal or illegal activity here in the township concerning the same ownership of two different spas.”
A local spa and massage parlor was cited for indecent conduct in April. Oakland County Sheriff’s Office investigators also found evidence of people living at another parlor in the township, including several beds and clothing, he said.
“There was also no determination made that these places were licensed by the state,” he said. “So at the request of (Township Supervisor Pat) Kittle and others, I was directed to look at our current ordinance and to prepare for adoption a new ordinance that is more expansive and more extensive.”
The proposed ordinance, which is based on state law, would require all massage therapists and massage parlors to be licensed by the state. License requirements would include criminal backgrounds checks, and review and inspections by law enforcement, building department, and planning commission. Exemptions include facilities with just one massage therapist on site.
It would prohibit any contact with or exposure of “breasts, genital areas, or buttocks” with intention of sexual arousal or gratification. Violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by 93 days in jail and/or $500 fine.
Requirements also include a register of all employees and their state licenses, as well as patrons, who must provide proof of identity to receive services. All records would be subject to inspections during business hours.
“This is also a requirement of the state law, so it’s nothing that is obtrusive,” Keenan said. “For example, no beds where people are sleeping or staying. All rooms must be kept unlocked, except for specific exclusions.”
This would be a “regulatory or police ordinance,” not a zoning ordinance, so it wouldn’t have a grandfather clause, he said.
“It’s like putting a stop sign at the end of your street. You have to stop. You have to comply with this ordinance, or you can be sanctioned with criminal penalties,” he said.
If an inspection found a violation, the township supervisor or delegated official could suspend operation of the business until there is a hearing, required within 20 days. The hearing would go through township Clerk Cari Neubeck’s office.
“During that time period, you can shut them down. Now, you can do it also through your property maintenance code, which provides for closing entities for unsafe conditions,” Keenan said. “There’s a lot of discretion involved.”
Currently, the township has to ask the courts to shut down a business if illegal activities or unsafe conditions are found, through an ex parte order, he said.
Under the old provisions, when somebody got caught doing something illegal or immoral, the police would go in and shut down the business.
“However, the owner of that property would basically be free to spring up another establishment pretty much anywhere,” he said. “Not only that, but in the one we had in April, the law enforcement was not in a position to shut them down. There was no court order for that particular entity to stop business in that particular location.”
Business hours would be limited to 9 a.m.-9 p.m. during the week, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends.
“There was some discussion about all the people who are in business now, since this is going to apply to them,” he said. “It’s been suggested that the ordinance specifically apply to everyone, but possibly a grace period where a notification would go to them, for example, 60 days, notifying them you must comply and you must do the following things or you will not be allowed to conduct your business, things of that nature.”
The names of the massage parlors cited this past year were not made public at the meeting, but readers called The Clarkston News earlier in the year about a salon in the 6000 block of Dixie Highway, which is no longer in business. The owners still operate a second location in Independence Township, Keenan said.
“Under the new ordinance, they are going to have to comply within, for example, 60 days, or they can be shut down, or they get caught doing something illegal and their license can be pulled, and they’re done,” he said. “Right now, they don’t have a license.”