SoCal Sober Living Homes Face an Array of Regulatory and Zoning Obstacles

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The subject of residential sober living homes and other treatment centers located in residential neighborhoods continues to attract substantial media attention in Southern California. The topic has become a lightning rod within many Southern California coastal communities. Arguments over residential treatment centers have recently evolved into litigation as the issue continues to spur local regulatory challenges and incite great passion. The effect that these cases may ultimately have on state law and city zoning codes remains in flux, all while the state considers various proposed bills on the topic, including AB 2255 and AB 2403. For owners and providers in the sober living and residential treatment space, the time is now to ensure strict compliance with applicable licensing requirements and zoning laws. To play fast and loose with local and state regulations is to invite dire consequences.

Some of the recent litigation has focused on state and local licenses being required to operate as a drug abuse and treatment facility. One significant issue arises where the patients are actually receiving treatment outside of the residence (such as an outpatient facility) but are otherwise living together inside the group residence. This raises the question, what does “treatment” mean and how should it be legally defined?  Operators of sober or rehabilitative living facilitates identify this as a human rights issue, noting that the group home environment assists in successful treatment (which is a national concern).

The primary issue of contention is that, while treatment centers are regulated by the state and must have licenses, no more than six people can live in such treatment centers.  However, group homes and sober living homes, where no “treatment” is taking place, generally do not have the same strict restriction on occupancy. Under current law, licensed residential treatment centers are exempt from zoning regulations if they have no more than six residents. In effect, this means that such facilities do not need permission from the local government in order to operate. However, the aforementioned pending state legislation, changes in local zoning, and the wave of recent lawsuits, have placed a bullseye squarely on the back of residential sober living facilities.

If you own or operate an addiction treatment or sober living facility, or are looking to invest in the behavioral healthcare industry, you should speak to qualified counsel with knowledge of applicable zoning laws and licensing requirements. Citizens, politicians and the media are raising the profile of the drug treatment industry, and even the slightest misstep could result in front page news.

Photo credit: Alexander Raths ©

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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