Bill Seeks to Regulate Sober Houses, but on a Voluntary Basis

In some Delray Beach neighborhoods, politicians say one in four homes might be sober houses.
In some Delray Beach neighborhoods, politicians say one in four homes might be sober houses.

When Republican state Rep. Bill Hager walks around his district in Delray Beach, he says it's not a rare occurrence to see fights, drug transactions, and even mattresses getting thrown out of windows. And he blames sober houses for blighting the quality of life in the trendy beachside city.

“The incidents involving sober homes are most intense in my district, where one out of every four homes is a sober home,” Hager tells New Times.

And with little regulation surrounding sober homes, there aren't many ways to clean it up. In fact, nobody even knows how many sober homes there really are because nobody's keeping track of them. But that might change with the passage of a new bill designed to put a little order in what many perceive as an out-of-control industry.

Hager, along with Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens from Lake Worth, sponsored the bill and got it passed unanimously. If signed into law by the governor, the bill will do two things: require sober house proprietors to undergo background checks, and require that they follow a “good neighbor” policy and meet necessary safety codes, including fire and occupancy.

But there's a catch: The entire system is voluntary, meaning not a single sober home will be required to participate.

Hager says the law had to be voluntary or else it could have been considered housing discrimination against drug addicts.

“We had to weave our way through the federal law,” Hager says. “The Americans with Disability Act and American Housing Act both say that if you inject yourself with heroin of your own volition and become addicted, you are then disabled. And as someone who is disabled, you can't be discriminated against. And that means in housing as well.”

Still, the state rep says he believes 85 percent of sober houses will sign up because that's about how many receive state funds.

“Any program that takes in state funding has to be certified as a sober home,” Hager says. “That's the carrot and stick.”

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