New Jersey DCA Sober Living Regs
Department of Community Affairs Sober Living Regulations
There is some concern/confusion within the State of New Jersey that Sober Living homes pose certain safety risks related to fire suppression and other potential hazards. At this time, it’s difficult to determine the actual issues that need to be rectified at the state level and some even believe it is not even a job for the state. For many sober home operators, it feels like the needs of recovering individuals are not being considered and instead energy is focused on details like fire suppression systems. With an opiate epidemic wiping out a generation of young people, it’s difficult not to let emotions run high, and often sober home operators feel like their reasonable contribution to stemming the tide of the epidemic is met with hostility at every turn.
In June of 2017 the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs proposed amendments to existing rules to establish a new category of facilities called “Cooperative Sober Living Residence.” These proposed regulations would give the state and the operators a clear idea of what is and is not allowed in a sober living residence. The regulations were very reasonable and gave the operators an ability to side-step certain challenges (such as adding complex sprinkler systems) and allow sober home operators to pay staff, which would provide an excellent avenue for accountability with the state and the ability to be transparent with all stakeholders involved.
The state experienced major push back against these regulations. The major issues of concern where that these homes were only to allow a maximum of 10 residents. The operators took exception to this issue because they believe it should be based on local zoning code of square footage. Some operators purchase or rent very large houses that would hold upwards of 20 individuals and having only 10 allowed would financially hinder the business. Rightfully so; many people do not consider the extreme liability operators face, repairs to the house and other operating expense that go into the massive task of helping someone rebuild their life.
Other opposition to the often wordy, complex and dry regulations had operators arguing about things that were completely unnecessary. These reactions were to the language of the regulations, particularly related to food and laundry services provided. The DCA’s proposed regulations stated that these services were not permitted, which reflected similar language to that of the DCA boarding regulations. Vocal individuals made laymen operators believe that they would not be permitted to provide food at sober living homes and that they would need to remove laundry machines. The state used language in line with the other codes, which states that food cannot be prepared by staff, owners and operators, nor can they provide laundry service. It is absurd to think someone could not cook and do laundry.
Regardless of peoples opinions of the regulation imposed by the state, there must be some consideration of a viable solution to side-step the fire suppression issues while still providing a safe and supportive environment. In more recent years, addiction is taking the life of many individuals at a rate much faster then fires and gun violence combined. In 2018 we are on track to expect close to 3000 drug related deaths. Vulnerable recovering individuals need support and operators need not feel like they are hiding in the shadows.
In February of 2018 the state created a “Class F” rooming and boarding license called a CSLR or “Cooperative Sober Living Residence”. These regulations now allow sober living homes to stop flying under the radar and permit operators to safely conduct business while providing a valuable service. The regulations allow operators to provide levels of care outlined in the New Jersey Alliance of Recovery Residence (NJARR) from levels 1 though 3. This means that the minimum requirements are basic safety but quality providers can push the envelope and provide services that will be life saving. The new law may not be perfect but it is a step in the right direction. The law allows for staff, mandated recovery related events/activities or off site services, mandated on-site live-in or round the clock staff and other specifics related to fire safety. The sober living regulations also mandate no more then 10 residents per house and the regs only allow single family or duplex style homes. The state believes that these are reasonable accommodations.
There are over 300 sober living houses in New Jersey and over 400 Oxford houses. This law will affect the sober living homes only. Oxford Houses are exempt from these regulations. At this time there does not appear to be any idea if the state will try and shut down operators that do not conform.