Sober Living Homes in your HOA?

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hoa-sober-living-home*Asked & Answered

Asked – We have seen several sober living homes surface within our community. What can our HOA do to prohibit these facilities? Aren’t they businesses which violate the commercial use restrictions in our CC&Rs or other HOA laws?

Answered – Regardless of how you feel about sober living homes, it is certainly a hot issue that numerous communities are dealing with–particularly coastal communities. HOA CC&Rs often contain provisions that prohibit the non-residential uses of properties or the use of properties for anything other than “single family” residential purposes. However, the California Legislature has, through the Health & Safety Code, mandated that a sober living home (an “alcohol or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility“) which services six (6) or fewer persons to be deemed “a residential use of property and a use of property by a single family, notwithstanding any disclaimers to the contrary.” (H&S Code § 11834.25.) This was done in order to immunize sober living homes from City, County and HOA restrictions (i.e., CC&Rs restrictions) on the use of properties for non-residential purposes. The Legislature has even declared it to be the public policy of California to “encourage” the development of sober living homes. To learn more about the law in this area, click here to read our article on FindHOALaw.com.

In situations where a HOA could potentially take action against a sober living home, it is usually because the home is continually violating some other provision of the CC&Rs which the HOA can enforce. However, in our experience, sober living home operators are savvy; they know the playing field and how to keep themselves out of trouble. Moreover, these facilities are generating substantial amounts of monthly revenue from insurance companies and private parties who cover the costs for patients to stay at the home. That revenue dwarfs any potential fines that a HOA might be able to impose for other CC&R violations which may stem from the home’s operations.

Efforts which have been taken by cities against sober living homes have also proven ineffective, largely because recovering addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other Federal statutes. For example, the City of Newport Beach in 2015 settled a lawsuit brought against the City by several sober living home operators. The operators sued the City over an ordinance it adopted which sought to restrict the facilities’ operations. The operators asserted that the ordinance violated anti-discrimination and fair housing laws. In addition to spending $4 million in legal fees, the City had to pay the sober living home operators $5.25 million as part of the settlement.

hoa laws Any meaningful restrictions to curb the growth of these facilities within private residential communities will likely need to be enacted at the State level (and potentially the Federal level). California HOAs are virtually powerless to do anything and the current options available to cities in regulating/licensing these facilities are relatively weak. 

To submit questions to the HOA attorneys at Tinnelly Law Group, click here.