What are Sober Living Homes?
Sober living homes are intended to help those recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. Usually, they are owned and operated by private companies. These facilities provide an alcohol and drug-free environment where residents can transition from rehabilitation to independent living without addiction. While the goal of these facilities is well intended, they sometimes raise concerns among residents when tenants do not follow the rules and engage in behavior that is disruptive to the neighborhood.
Sober living homes are not new to Laguna Niguel. They have been in our community since at least 2002. Currently, there are approximately ten of these homes in the City.
In Orange County, the cities of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and San Clemente have, or have had, as many as 50 to 100 of these homes located within their boundaries, many of which are in very close proximity to each other. This has resulted increased and excessive traffic, late night noise, littering, second hand smoke and other adverse impacts on the neighborhoods.
The courts have held that the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevent cities from prohibiting such facilities. Some cities, including those listed above, have attempted to regulate these facilities by enacting ordinances that would require a separation of the homes from each other and limiting the number of residents. Such action has led to significant litigation between the owners and operators of the homes and the cities.
What is the latest City action?
On June 5, 2018, the City Council approved an ordinance to amend the Laguna Niguel Municipal Code and the Laguna Niguel Gateway Specific Plan to clarify and establish regulations for congregate living facilities in all zoning districts. State licensed residential care facilities are exempt from local zoning regulations and would therefore not be affected. A summary of Ordinance 2018-194 is located here.
Pursuant to Ordinance No. 2018-194, existing unlicensed group home facilities are hereby required to make application to the City of Laguna Niguel Community Development Department for a Group Home Permit by October 4, 2018, and achieve full compliance with permit regulations by January 1, 2019. Failure to comply with the deadlines stated above shall result in City initiation of code enforcement action against both non-compliant property owners and facility operators.
Any permitted group home facilities found not to meet the required 1,000 foot separation distance requirement from other group home facilities and state licensed residential care facilities shall be deemed “legal nonconforming.” This designation means that the facility will be allowed to continue operating given compliance with all other permit regulations. However, upon discontinuance of facility operation for a period of one year, any future request to operate a group home facility at the property will be regulated as a new facility, subject to the separation requirement.
The Group Home Permit Application is available here.
What Can the City Enforce?
The City can, and does, enforce applicable provisions of the Municipal, Zoning and Building Codes, and State Penal Code statutes regarding disorderly conduct, excessive and late night noise, littering and other actions that are disruptive and negatively affect a neighborhood. Historically, the City has been successful in addressing these issues by:
- Meeting with the owners/operators of the homes to discuss the concerns.
- Requesting the owners/operators take measures to eliminate the issues.
- Enforcing the City Codes and State Penal Code.
This approach has resulted in a resolution of the problems caused by residents of the homes with the residents being more sensitive to the living conditions of the surrounding neighborhood.
City staff continues to monitor sober living homes in Laguna Niguel and responds to calls for service. The City also continues to monitor the enactment of ordinances and resulting litigation in Orange County cities as well as State legislation that pertains to the authority of the City to regulate such facilities.
For concerns regarding any alleged criminal activity or emergencies, call 911. For non-emergency activities and nuisances, such as night-time noise complaints and illegal street parking, please call O.C. Sheriff Dispatch at (949) 770-6011. General questions or concerns regarding sober living homes and/or concerns regarding alleged property maintenance, zoning or building code violations, may be directed to the City's Code Enforcement office at (949) 362-4300. Residents may also submit inquiries to the City online via the city's E-Trakit system.
Congressman Darrell Issa introduced HR 6070, the Safe Recovery and Community Empowerment Act. The bill seeks to amend the Fair Housing Act to carve out sober living homes (SLH) from certain housing protections by creating the term “Residential Recovery Facility” (RRF) which is intended to stop the bad actors from taking advantage of unintended protections currently provided through the Fair Housing Act. HR 6070 would empower local communities to strengthen their regulatory options by reinforcing their authority to properly zone for RRFs in residential areas to preserve the character of their residential neighborhoods.
A Town Hall Meeting was held on May 12, 2016 in Laguna Hills that featured presentations from Senator Patricia Bates, Assembly Members Bill Brough and Matthew Harper, legal specialists, and other local government representatives.
The Laguna Niguel City Council took a position on April 5, 2016 to support several pieces of proposed State legislation that would create additional regulations and state licensing requirements for sober living homes and drug and alcohol treatment facilities (SB 1283 Bates/Brough, AB 2772 Chang/Brough, AB 2255 Melendez/Brough, AB 2403 Bloom/Brough). All four of these bills were defeated and never made it out of Committee in the State legislature this year.
The City’s position is, and continues to be, that the goal of residential treatment facilities is well intended, but too often, patients are placed into homes with substandard care and lack of concern for surrounding neighborhoods. Action is desperately needed to require consistent licensing requirements by the State legislature.
Options for State and Local Regulations - October 2016
California Legislative Information
Senator Pat Bates | 36th Senate District
Assembly Member Bill Brough | 73rd Assembly District
Assembly Member Phillip Chen | 55th Assembly District
Assembly Member Richard Bloom | 50th Assembly District