Woodlands committee quiet on legality of OnlyFans home businesses

During the COVID-19 pandemic shut downs and isolation, more communications shifted to web-based systems such as Slack, Zoom or other live-streaming services.

That shift included more adult content online on sites like OnlyFans, a DIY streaming site where models, singers and others such as personal trainers or adult performers post images and videos to followers who pay for access.

After a tip about the practice and questions about whether or not live-streaming adult, sexual content from a home in the township is legal, a web search turned up scores of OnlyFans accounts for keywords, ‘OnlyFans’’ and ‘in The Woodlands.”

Officials with The Woodlands Development Standards Committee did not respond to questions about OnlyFans sent over a week-long period. Emails to the OnlyFans media engagement team had not been returned on Wednesday.

The DSC regulates and issues permits to all home businesses in the township, ranging from consulting to home hair salons and childcare services.

In Montgomery County, adult-oriented businesses have been shunned or banned.

DSC Chairman Arthur Bredehoft said in an email that neither he nor the DSC staff have any comment on the status and legality of home-based internet content streaming sites such as OnlyFans as a home business under The Woodlands covenants.

“At this time, we have no further comment,” Bredehoft said.

In a June 24 email, Bredehoft said he and others were unaware of the possible existence of adult-oriented OnlyFans businesses or live-streamed online sex shows originating in The Woodlands.

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. The committee was not aware (of OnlyFans businesses),” Bredehoft said on June 24. “We will review accordingly.”

DSC attorney Bret Strong also replied on June 23 to requests for information, but later provided no details or answers to six questions about the issue.

“Let me review this with (Bredehoft) first then someone will get back with you,” Strong wrote.

Township Board of Directors chairman Gordy Bunch said he was unaware that OnlyFans home businesses may be operating in The Woodlands.

“I have not heard anything about it. I am not on the DSC board, that is a separate entity,” Bunch added. “They do not bring things to our full board unless it goes to litigation. If The Woodlands Township were a city, we would have the ability to create an ordinance prohibiting sexually oriented businesses from operating within The Woodlands.”

Online content

As more people find themselves out of work or have voluntarily left old jobs and sought new ventures, online content of all kinds has helped some fill the void and bring in revenue.

On the company’s website, OnlyFans officials explain the background of the platform and tout connections to Houston-native and pop icon Beyonce.

“Founded in 2016, by British entrepreneur Tim Stokely OnlyFans has since become one of the leading global social platforms. Tim’s vision was to develop a site where creators could monetize their content free of advertisers. He and his technical team brought this vision to life,” officials state on the site. “Since then OnlyFans has grown to become part of the cultural zeitgeist accepting creators from all genres. The onset of 2020 brought forth a significant rise in creator and fan growth. Beyonce name-dropped OnlyFans on the ‘Savage Remix,’ cementing its importance as a top social platform.”

The rise of the site’s popularity during the pandemic led to unusual stories across the nation, ranging from bikini model influencers getting kicked out of a short-term- rental for live-streaming to a former Houston school teacher who turned to the site for income.

There are also large numbers of accounts on the site with adult content, ranging from bikini and lingerie models to topless, fully nude and also sexual performances alone or with others. Officials with the site have recently announced an effort to focus less on adult content and are seeking funding for expansion efforts

Many creators use their apartments or home to film segments, raising questions of whether or not the activities fall under the authority of the DSC as a home business. Creators can earn commissions on their content from monthly subscription fees and other features such as referral bonuses.

Bredehoft; township covenant manager Hennie van Rensburg and Strong were asked whether or not adult-content, live-streaming performers are required to obtain a home business permit; whether or not the DSC knows of any such businesses in The Woodlands; and if any complaints had been made to the DSC about adult-oriented web streaming studios in homes.

Bredehoft declined to respond to questions Wednesday.

Other questions that were posed to the DSC included whether or not short-term rental homes in The Woodlands can be used to film adult sexual content; whether or not anyone has ever applied to have a home business on OnlyFans or other adult sites; and if the businesses were banned in the future, how might they be regulated.

Regulating businesses

In Montgomery County, a sexually oriented business must be permitted and the county’s ordinance gives the sheriff the power to regulate, investigate, deny, suspend or revoke SOB permits.

Under Section IV (g) of the Montgomery County Regulations for Sexually Oriented Businesses in the Unincorporated Area, an adult theater is defined as a place that regularly features ‘live performances.’

“(Adult Theatre) shall mean a theatre, concert hall, auditorium or similar enterprise that regularly features live performances characterized by the exposure of specified anatomical areas as defined in these regulations,” the ordinance states.

It is not known if a live-streaming adult performance for an online audience fits into that definition.

Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Mike Holley said he did not know if the ‘adult theater’ statute applied to in-home studios live-streaming online. Holley noted staff was going to explore the legal question and see if it applies to the new, online performing apps such as OnlyFans.

Because The Woodlands is unincorporated, the county’s ordinance governs the issue in the township except for Creekside Park, which is in Harris County.

In May 2017, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office officials worked with the County Attorney’s Office to tighten restrictions on sexually oriented businesses, specifically illegal massage parlors. Since then, there have also been assorted prostitution related sting operations resulting in scores of arrests.

Bunch said in a phone interview he would ask consultants working on incorporation to explore the legality of an adult business ordinance that could possibly ban adult-oriented home studios.

“(In regard) to incorporation, that is an ordinance you can put in, banning adult businesses in the new city,” Bunch said. “I’ll have to check on whether or not an ordinance banning adult oriented businesses could prohibit something like this (OnlyFans). It may not rise up to the level of (being able to be banned).”

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