Feds Offer Cities Guidance On How To Regulate Sober Homes

By Victoria Kim 11/15/16

New guidelines will give communities more discretion to weed out bad sober home operators.

Feds Offer Cities Guidance On How To Regulate Sober Homes

As rates of addiction have risen, so has the need for sober homes. But as with any lucrative industry, plenty of bad sober home operators have emerged, taking advantage of vulnerable people who are desperate to beat addiction. 

In the past, medical privacy laws have shielded sober homes from most housing regulation, CBS12 noted, since people with drug addiction or alcoholism qualify as having a disability under the Fair Housing Act. 

Last week, the federal government sought to address the issues surrounding the sober home industry. In a joint statement issued last Thursday (Nov. 10), the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced new guidelines to regulating group homes, which include sober homes, in hopes that they will provide cities “the legal clarity they need to maintain the safety and character of their communities while protecting the rights and needs of people with disabilities, including those recovering from drug addiction.”

Officials hope the new guidelines will give cities more discretion, drive out bad sober home operators, and protect people in recovery.

CBS12 outlined three main points to the new guidelines.

The first is that a city may create a standard for health and safety in sober homes, such as requiring licensing, as long as they are not “based on stereotypes” and are fairly distributed to all sober homes. Under the Fair Housing Act, requirements imposed on sober livings must be “neutral” and not discriminatory.

Second is that a city may deny a sober home if it is deemed to “impose an undue financial and administrative burden on local government or would fundamentally alter a city’s zoning scheme.” The Palm Beach Post noted that this guideline gives "specific advice on reviewing requests for reasonable accommodations" from sober livings and more clearly defines when it is appropriate to deny such requests.

The third point specifies that protection provided by the Fair Housing Act does not apply to cases of “criminal activity, insurance fraud, Medicaid fraud, neglect or abuse of residents, or other illegal conduct occurring at group homes.” This rule affirms a local government’s right to take action in response to such offenses.

The guidelines were lauded by Mayor Cary Glickstein of Delray Beach, Florida, where there are more than 800 sober homes. Giving cities the power to regulate sober homes is an important step in protecting “a vulnerable class,” said Glickstein. 

A CBS12 investigation found that law enforcement and communities blame poorly run sober homes for contributing to a rise in heroin use. Delray Beach authorities told CBS that the sober home industry is overwhelming first responders, hospitals, and police.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr