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How best to regulate sober-living homes? – Press-Enterprise

how to best regulate sober living homes

April Thomas was stringing Christmas lights at her new Murrieta home when she noticed the white vans.
They were headed to a home two doors down, a home that at first glance resembled the others in her well-appointed neighborhood on the west side of the city.

“There were vans pulling up to the house all day long,” she said.

Thomas, who moved with her husband and daughter into their home in November, would later discover from neighbors that the vans were carrying clients to and from a sober living home, one of two located within a one block radius of her place.

Shocked by the discovery – no one mentioned the existence of the facility before they moved in – Thomas started learning more about the homes and how they are regulated by the city, state and federal government.
What she found, she said, was that there is no real oversight of the facilities and little recourse for neighboring residents who are frustrated by the behavior of clients, which can include loud conversations at night, cigarette smoke wafting from backyards into neighboring homes and a revolving door of people who are in various stages of recovery.

“I want it to be clear these people these need help,” she said. “But from a licensed medical facility with medical doctors. Right now, they’re not being taken care of.”


Under state law, the homes do not provide any services, medical or non-medical, to their residents as they attempt to recover from drug or alcohol addiction and are not required to seek licenses from the state departments of Social Services or Health Care Services, said Todd Leishman, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, who has helped represent the cities of Aliso Viejo and Lake Forest and San Clemente.
The state considers the people who live in a sober-living home to be a sort of “family” and the patients are afforded protected class status because they are in treatment. That status has prevented local legislation against the homes, said attorney Leishman.

Those who lobby on behalf of the companies say there is a strong argument for placing recovering patients in tranquil suburban settings because it helps them become productive members of society.

At least one company that operates sober living homes said bad experiences can be traced to “bad actors.”

That organization, the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, represents more than 1,000 homes. It wants to be a solution to the problem and work with legislators on regulations that would protect consumers and prosecute companies that run afoul of the law, said CEO Pete Nielsen.

The tricky part, he said, is making sure that whatever is enacted allows the homes to carry out their mission of easing former addicts into a sober life.

“Sometimes when we try to take care of the bad actors we make it tough on the good actors,” he said. “You don’t hear about the ones that are well run.”


To address these types of complaints, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista – with the support of other lawmakers – plans to introduce federal legislation that would amend the Fair Housing Act to specifically allow any local, state or federal government body to enact and enforce a zoning ordinance or other regulation that limits the number of sober homes within a particular neighborhood.

The city of Costa Mesa reined in the proliferation of sober-living homes in single-family home neighborhoods by passing a law that restricted the number that could settle in a particular area.
The law was challenged but a federal judge dismissed the suit because the regulation, in the court’s estimation, could help recovering addicts by preventing neighborhoods from becoming institutionalized settings.


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