Delray Beach City Commissioners took an heroic stance Tuesday when they voted into law a packet of ordinances designed to curb nuisance rentals in single family neighborhoods. Or not. "They're basically political cowards pandering to the bigoted, stereotypical sentiments of certain vocal constituents," West Palm attorney Jim Green said of the commission.
The new laws would make it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live together. Homes can be rented no more than six times in one year.
But Green thinks the law unfairly targets the many "sober houses" in Delray, where people in recovery from drug or alcohol addictions live together temporarily for support. In a pointed July 2 letter to the commission, Green reminded commissioners that people in recovery are considered disabled and entitled to FHA and ADA protections.
"For recovering alcoholics and addicts," he wrote, "finding and staying in a healthy, functional environment that provides mutual support and monitoring, surrounded by people who are not using alcohol or drugs and away from people and situations that originally triggered substance abuse are an essential element to avoiding relapse."
"The commission is using the code-word 'transients' to target people in recovery," Green told New Times. "If you go through the public records in this case you'll see a number of times when someone will say 'sober house legislation - I mean transients'...like they're winking at each other about it. In one email to [Vice-Mayor Gary Eliopoulos] the writer slips, saying 'the two halfway houses - oops! Transient rentals.' These laws have a disparate impact on people in recovery."
Commissioner Mac Bernard insists sober houses are not being targeted. "We created ordinances that would apply across the board," he told us by phone Wednesday, "and we had two hearings on this issue. "[The ordinances] would affect seasonal rental communities, immigrant communities, sober houses, it would be a consistent application. We wanted to make sure these ordinances were meeting our goals, which were to provide a safe environment for our constituents. We were listening to the pulse of the community."
Although residents complained of traffic and noise problems during the hearings, no one we talked to could cite a single instance of criminal activity at any sober house, or any spike in crime statistics when more than three unrelated people were living together. "I have an email from a city code official that states that 90 percent of complaints are not generated by either the landlord or neighbors, they're generated by code enforcement," Green says. Green fought a similar housing case, Jeffrey vs. The City of Boca Raton and triumphed, costing Boca $1.3 million. He says his first action will be to file complaints with the Department of Justice and HUD.
Says commissioner Bernard: "We were advised by our city attorney that we can defend ourselves against a lawsuit if need be."
Let the games begin.