California May Regulate Sober Living Homes For the First Time

The state Legislature has taken a tentative step toward regulating sober living homes.

Authored by Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, AB 2255 was approved by the Assembly Health Committee this week. The bill would create an optional state certification that sober living homes could apply for. The state would then maintain a list of accredited facilities, which consumers would hopefully use. 

“Poorly operated sober living homes have plagued our neighborhoods for years without facing any repercussions," Melendez said in a statement. "Without any health and good-neighbor standards, too many of these homes provide little to no care for individuals struggling with addiction and their neighborhoods. This bill is a simple solution to promote safety and effective recovery throughout the state.”

Though sober living homes are technically barred from providing medical care or therapy on their property, they are otherwise unregulated in the state of California. Since they are classified by law as "group homes," they do not need any license or certification to operate. It's impossible to find out how many there are or who operates them.

Dave Sheridan, executive director of the Sober Living Network, an L.A.-based industry group, supports AB 2255. "Our whole mission is to create standards," Sheridan says. "We never defend the right of a bad operator to stay in business."

Some in the rehab community had hoped the new state certifications would be mandatory, forcing all homes to comply with regulations or be shuttered. But backers of the bill are hoping it will be a first step toward reining in the industry — that if the state can put together a list of sober living homes that meet minimum criteria, then perhaps, at some point, the state can mandate which homes get referrals by the court system or prisons. 

"We were hoping the state would spend resources on consumer awareness, telling customers which homes are accountable and which ones aren’t," Sheridan says. "The state has never lifted a finger, ever, to help the public understand the difference between good and bad housing options."

Another bill, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, aims to reduce the concentration of residential treatment centers and licensed group homes, which are especially prevalent in Malibu and West L.A. Neighbors often complain of sober living residents loitering in front of their property, taking up too many parking spaces, and making too much noise. That bill, too, was approved by the Assembly Health Committee. 

State Senator Pat Bates had floated a bill that would have allowed cities and counties to adopt their own set of regulations, but that bill failed to make it out of committee.

"It’s disappointing that the Senate Health Committee did not heed the voices of thousands of residents concerned about the proliferation of sober living homes in their communities,” Bates said in a statement.

Sheridan opposed both Bates' and Bloom's bills. When asked why he thought there were so many recent proposals to regulate his industry, he replied: "A lot of neighbors don’t want a bunch of drug addicts living next to them."

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Assemblyman Bloom's bill dealt with sober living homes. It does not; it deals with group homes that are licensed.

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