In the United States, it is almost impossible for an association to outrightly ban group homes, and this can be attributed to the protections of disabled persons accorded by the ADA and FHA.
This particular protection also stands even if the ban comes in the form of a covenant prohibiting the use of a residence as a sober home, or a deed restriction restricting existing compliant homeowners from selling to buyers who plan to establish a group home serving disabled persons.
Regardless of whether it houses seniors or disabled persons who require long-term care, recovering addicts who want attention and emotional support, or maybe even released offenders reintegrating into society, group homes tend to provide the necessary support to individuals who may not be ready or able to live alone.
Nevertheless, please keep in mind that these homes also come with certain disadvantages, especially for the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
If numerous adults live in the same facility, the extra traffic and parking requirements can prove to be more than what the residential area can deal with. Aside from that, if the group home’s residents are working on overcoming addiction, a relapse into substance abuse might give rise to a dangerous environment.
In addition, individuals who reside in transitional housing may not share the same interest in guaranteeing neatness, maintenance, and peace as homeowners with a long-term commitment to the neighborhood.
Owing to all these, certain homeowners’ associations have tried to ban or even prohibit group homes. Howbeit, a good number of them have learned the hard way that federal law provides hefty protections to certain group homes.
What Federal Laws Protect Group Homes in the United States?
Just as it was noted above, federal laws are in place to protect group homes in the United States. One very good example is The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) which was put in place by Congress in 1968 in response to pervasive racial discrimination in the leasing and sale of housing.
The statute forbids housing discrimination based on specific “protected classes,” such as race, religion, national origin, and sex.
Sometime in 1988, Congress broadened the FHA to inculcate disabled persons within the law’s protections. Owing to that, the exact same way HOA can barely enforce a covenant restricting the sale of lots to people of a certain race, it still doesn’t have the right to ban sales to disabled individuals.
Simply put, HOA does not have the legal right to enact any policy that in any way prevents a disabled person from having access to or even making use of a property based upon a disability, with “disability” defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities…” 42 U.S.C. §12102.
Leveraging the same definition of “disability,” the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) also restricts discrimination against disabled persons in a whole lot of situations, including public accommodations and access to state and local government services.
As such, any policy or covenant that prevents a disabled person from using any facility open to the public goes against the ADA. Over the years, there have been court cases to further buttress the valid protection these homes enjoy.
For example, In Rhodes vs. Palmetto Pathway Homes, Inc., 400 S.E.2d 484 (S.C. 1990), which took place almost immediately after the FHA’s expansion, a homeowner in a residential-use-only community sued to restrain the operation of a group home for adults with mental disabilities.
In the same vein, in Deep East Texas Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services vs. Kinnear, 877 S.W.2d 550 (Tex. App. 1994), the Texas Appeals Court noted that banning the activities of a group home for disabled adults within an HOA community with group-living restrictions goes against the FHA.
These few examples buttressed the fact that group homes providing services to residents with physical or mental impairments are protected by the FHA.
Nonetheless, even though a group home for the disabled or a sober home might be exempt from an association’s prohibition on commercial uses, it would still be expected to align with every other covenant and restriction unrelated to residents’ disabilities.
In the United States, traffic and parking requirements, smoking restrictions, prohibitions against excessive noise, unsightly conditions, and other nuisances; and maintenance and landscaping requirements are all potentially enforceable against group homes – so long as the group home is not being singled out for stricter treatment.
Just as was noted above, it is almost impossible for an association to outrightly ban group homes. However, note that the laws of individual states might provide additional housing protections based upon other classes, as such any association looking to restrict group homes is recommended to first reach out to an experienced attorney prior to enacting or enforcing covenants and restrictions.