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Federal Government Issues Guidance on Sober Home Regulation; Revolutionary not Evolutionary

Updated guidance has been issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development. The pronouncements open the door for local regulation of sober homes on a broad basis. In the past, state and local governments were limited in their ability to regulate sober homes because of the Fair Housing Act’s protection of the disabled. The new guidance is designed to assist state and local governments so that they may impose new restrictions but at the same time maintain compliance with the FHA.

The new guidelines do detail many prohibited forms of regulations, but they also go on to explain that state and local governments may act in certain ways that will have a significant impact. Specifically, state and local governments may deny a sober home if the cost burden on the city is too high. Cities can also establish licensing programs or implement other requirements for sober homes, as long as the requirements are not based on stereotypes and are fairly and equally applied.

In addition, the new guidelines clarify that state and local governments can take action in response to criminal activity, insurance fraud, Medicaid Fraud, neglect or abuse of residents, or other illegal conduct occurring at group homes. There can be spacing requirements imposed.

Sober home operators must be aware of the effect that these new guidelines will have on local regulation. Reasonable accommodations will be a far more intensive approval process than ever before.

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