Sober Living Homes

Click here to watch a video recording of a sober living homes town hall that took place on October 3, 2016, in Oceanside. It features comments from Senator Patricia Bates, Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, Congressman Darrell Issa, legal specialists and local government representatives.

Click here to watch a video recording of a sober living homes town hall that took place on May 12, 2016, in Laguna Hills. It features comments from Senator Patricia Bates, Assembly Members Bill Brough and Matthew Harper, legal specialists and local government representatives.

Background

The proliferation of sober living homes in our communities has created concerns over the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods. Prior efforts from state and local governments to address concerns from residents have faced legal and other challenges.

People who are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction are classified as “disabled” under federal law, and they must be provided certain accommodations for housing. As a result, our local governments have faced, at best, uncertainty, and at worst, the prospect of expensive and lengthy litigation when attempting to establish requirements and standards for sober living homes.

At the state level, there have been attempts to address the proliferation both of unregulated sober living homes as well as state-licensed alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facilities over the course of two decades, but the problems remain unresolved. We are under no illusions that a solution will be easy or immediate, but we remain encouraged that the concerted focus that this issue is now receiving will induce meaningful progress.

Senator Bates will continue to work with stakeholders and officials at the local, state, and federal levels to address the issues raised by sober living homes.

2016-05-12_Sober Living Town Hall_Bates

Senator Bates (center) along with Assembly Members Bill Brough (left) and Matthew Harper (right) discuss sober living homes at a public town hall meeting in Laguna Hills on May 12.

State Legislation

In 2015, Assemblyman Bill Brough authored Assembly Bill 838, which would have required a recovery house that is owned or operated by a community care facility and that functions as an integral component of that community care facility to be licensed and subject to inspection and enforcement. Senator Bates would have been a co-author if this bill had been amended.  This bill did not receive a hearing.

In 2016, Senator Bates authored, with Assemblyman Brough as principal co-author, Senate Bill 1283. This bill would have authorized a city or county to adopt health and safety standards for structured sober living homes. City and county ordinances could include, but would not be limited to, mandatory registration requirements, in-home supervision requirements for the residents, and an operation plan that addresses maintenance of the property and noise abatement. This bill was modeled on legislation that was passed by the Arizona Legislature on a bipartisan basis and signed into law by Arizona’s governor in 2016.

Senate Bill 1283 was defeated in the Senate Health Committee, while facing strong opposition from certain operators of sober living homes who mischaracterized the bill’s purpose and intent. Only the Republican members of the committee voted in favor of this bill.

AB 2772 (Chang), which Senator Bates co-authored, would have required a person who has been ordered or required to participate in a drug treatment program to seek treatment only from an alcoholism and drug abuse recovery or treatment facility that is licensed by the State Department of Health Care Services and that is in compliance with the local laws where the facility is located. Opponents, who included operators of sober living homes, argued that this measure would allow local governments to erect barriers to housing for people with special needs. The Assembly Public Safety Committee rejected this bill on a party-line vote, with only the Republican members voting in favor of the bill.

Two bills passed the Assembly Health Committee, but did not subsequently pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee:

AB 2255 (Melendez), which Senator Bates co-authored, would have provided for certification of drug and alcohol free residences that meet specified requirements and standards. To qualify for certification, an operator of a residence would be required to have a good neighbor policy to address neighborhood concerns and complaints, a policy for informing local government officials and neighbors about complaint procedures, the contact number of the operator of the residence, and a contact number of a minimum of one resident assigned with the responsibility of mitigating a complaint. This bill would have empowered cities, counties, and local law enforcement agencies to request that the State Department of Health Care Services revoke certification of a residence that is suspected of not operating in compliance with a code of conduct.

AB 2403 (Bloom), which Senator Bates requested to co-author, would have allowed cities and counties to request that the California Department of Health Care Services deny a license for a new alcoholism or drug abuse or treatment facility if the new facility would result in overconcentration by being located within 300 feet of an existing licensed facility.

In 2017, Senator Bates authored SB 34 that directs the Department of Health Care Services to develop guidelines on how the department should report to the Legislature about its work related to residential treatment facilities. This bill did not pass the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senator Bates co-authored AB 1095 (Harper) that will allow local governments to zone integral facilities, which are two or more “6 and under” licensed treatment homes, similar to “7 and over” licensed treatment homes, if they operate in a campus like environment. This would include sharing meal services, treatment programs, counseling sessions, transit, management, etc. This bill did not pass the Assembly Health Committee.

In 2018, Senator Bates authored two bills on sober living homes and residential treatment facilities: SB 902 and SB 1290. SB 902 requires background checks for licensed operators of residential treatment facilities. It is imperative that the owners and operators who exercise control or management of individuals seeking care or treatment in these facilities be cleared through state and federal criminal databases. SB 1290 prohibits patient brokering, modeled after Florida’s “Patient Brokering Act.” Anti-kickback statutes like SB 1290 are designed to prevent insurance fraud and abusive practices resulting from provider decisions that are based on self-interest rather than cost, quality of care or necessity of services. Unfortunately, both of these bills were held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Two bills that Senator Bates co-authored were signed by the Governor: SB 992 (Hernandez) and AB 3162 (Friedman). SB 992 requires all alcoholism and drug abuse recovery or treatment facilities to disclose specified information to the California Department of Health Care Services and requires residential treatment facilities to develop a plan to address relapses. AB 3162 makes initial licenses for residential treatment facilities provisional for one year, requires services offered by the residential treatment facility to be specified on the license and provided within the licensed residential treatment facility, and increases civil penalties for the violation of licensing law.

Additional Resources

For more information on sober living homes, please click on the links below.

Select California Laws Relating to Residential Recovery Facilities and Group Homes

Regulating Sober Living Homes and the Challenges of Implementing ADA & FHA

Case Study of Situation in Newport Beach

League of California Cities Webpage on Sober Living Homes

Rumble In The Riviera (article on Sober Living Homes)

Group Home Legislation

Costa Mesa: A Case Study

Sober Living Homes (PowerPoint Presentation from Rutan & Tucker and Best Best & Krieger)

Bipartisan U.S. Senate Letter on Sober Living Homes

Bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives Letter on Sober Living Homes

(Updated December 2018.)