Sober-Living Homes Fight Utah’s ‘Hypocrisy’

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A “hypocritical” regulatory scheme for sober-living homes will leave dozens of disabled people homeless and render such homes “economically unfeasible and operationally impractical,” operators and residents claim in Federal Court.
     NXLevel Network, its owner, its operator and two residents sued Utah, its Department of Health and Human Services, Draper City, West Jordan City and five of the government agencies’ officials, under the Fair Housing Act.
     Sober living homes, or “recovery residences,” provide refuge for people in recovery to live as a “family unit” with an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle, according to the Jan. 12 lawsuit.
     The homes provide housing for recovering addicts and alcoholics. They do not provide medical or rehabilitation services, and are an “affordable, unsupervised, self-run, and self-sustaining” housing option to recovering substance abusers.
     The Utah Legislature in May amended UCA § 62A-2 to require that recovery residences obtain a state license and be subjected to increased regulatory oversight, including “significant administrative and financial requirements,” the 18-page lawsuit states.
     “Despite the fact that sober living homes only provide federally protected housing, under the Utah Administrative Code, Rule R501-18, the State of Utah has imposed that recovery residences provide basic health and safety standards including significant administration and financial requirements,” the complaint states.
     Specifically, the plaintiffs say, the regulatory shift subjects recovery residences to initial licensing fees, separate initial licensing fees, separate renewal license fees, plus other fees.
     Additional requirements include that “clients,” or residents, receive support services and that their records be provided to the state, mandates staff-to-client ratios, and stipulates where prescription and non-prescription medications must be kept.
     Defined accommodation requirements, the lawsuit adds, include locking bathrooms, minimum sleeping space, sources of light, minimum dining space and how each client may decorate his or her room.
     These requirements “facially discriminate against disabled persons and also render the sober living homes economically unfeasible and operationally impractical,” the complaint states.
     Plaintiffs Allen Andersen and NXLevel Network own or lease and manage seven sober-living homes in Utah.
     State requirements mandate that more than half of a sober living home’s residents be recovering from a substance abuse disorder and that the home provide or arrange for its residents to receive recovery services for a substance abuse disorder, either on or off site.
     Residents must approve by vote any new house member, and members may be voted out for violating house rules.
     Every resident of a sober-living home is a disabled person, as defined by Fair Housing Act 42 U.S.C. 3601, the complaint adds.
     The defendants threaten to shut down sober living homes that do not become licensed, which will leave co-plaintiff residents Robert Gurney and Amy Hodgson, “along with dozens of other sober living home residents,” homeless, according to the complaint.
     Plaintiffs’ attorney Ted McBride, with Vial Fotheringham, said the “regulatory scheme” is “grossly overreaching” and violates personal freedom and privacy rights.
     “In light of the enormous homeless problem existing in Utah, I find it both disheartening and hypocritical that the state would enact licensing regulations making it more difficult for people attempting to help themselves to secure adequate, affordable housing,” McBride told Courthouse News.
     “Not only does the state action violate federal law, it’s also devoid of any compassion or empathy for recovering addicts who need a supportive housing to assist in their continued sobriety.”
     McBride called it a “misguided attempt at legislation.”
     Department of Human Services spokeswoman Heather Barnum told Courthouse News that the state rules were “for the protection and support of those in recovery.”
     “The Utah State Legislature in 2014 determined that recovery residences should be licensed by basic health and safety standards,” Barnum said. “The Utah Department of Human Services Office of Licensing issues, verifies and monitors licensure of recovery residences in compliance with the law.”
     West Jordan City had not been served with the lawsuit by Wednesday afternoon, its spokeswoman Kim Wells said.
     Draper City declined comment.
     The Department of Workforce Services estimated that 13,621 people were homeless in Utah in 2014.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that UCA § 62A-2 is invalid under and preempted by the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and an order preventing the state from forcing disabled residents out of sober-living homes.

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