By: Matt Fischer
Municipalities throughout the nation continue to use zoning to exclude community residences from residential districts despite the presence of numerous court decisions that recognize community residences for people with disabilities as a residential use. Over the past year multiple Florida cities have imposed tougher regulations on community residences for people with disabilities. These communities include group homes, sober living homes, recovery communities, and assisted living facilities that emulate a biological family. In creating these regulations, cities cite to the protection of individuals from the actions of unscrupulous operators and also the need to avoid a concentration of community residences in one area that have shown to undermine the goals of the residents. Thus, if you are an operator in one of these cities, you may be subject to heightened scrutiny and additional documentation requirements ranging from simple registration to submitting an application for a conditional use permit requiring an appearance before a planning and zoning board.
Let’s start with the zoning basics. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing against people with disabilities including individuals in recovery for drug addiction and alcoholism. Specifically, the law requires cities to provide “reasonable accommodation” in their land use regulations for people with these disabilities. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released updated guidelines for cities as several were completely prohibiting community residences in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Several of the cities with new laws include Delray Beach, Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. Some of the common requirements imposed are spacing between community residences and certification by a state designated certifying entity. For example, Delray Beach requires an applicant to seek a conditional use permit if the proposed residence is within a distance of 660 feet from an existing community. In contrast, Fort Lauderdale requires 1,000 feet.
Zoning changes often open up a whole new world of possibilities for using real property or they can cause disastrous impact. If you are an operator located in a city with community residence zoning restrictions, it is important to understand what these laws mean for you.