Connecting People to Services

Laws Prohibiting Sober House Regulation

Laws prohibiting regulation of sober houses

MA General Laws c.40A, s.3

 In part:  ”[I]mposition of health and safety laws or land use requirements on congregate living arrangements among non-related persons with disabilities that are not imposed on families and groups of similar size or other unrelated persons shall constitute discrimination.”

Federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. s. 3601 et seq.

The Act applies to municipalities and other local government entities and makes it unlawful to make zoning or land use decisions or implement land use policies that treat groups of persons with disabilities less favorably than groups of non-disabled persons.

  • An example would be an ordinance prohibiting housing for persons with disabilities or a specific type of disability, such as mental illness, from locating in a particular area, while allowing other groups of unrelated individuals to live together in that area.

Definition of Disability: Federal laws define a person with a disability as “Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment.”

  • In general, a physical or mental impairment, including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex, and mental retardation, that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • Alcoholism, like drug addiction, is an impairment under the definitions of a disability set forth in the FHA, the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act and has been supported by case law and legislative history.
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
  • The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications
  • Current users of illegal controlled substances, persons convicted for illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, sex offenders, and juvenile offenders, are not considered disabled under the Fair Housing Act, by virtue of that status.
  • The Fair Housing Act affords no protections to individuals with or without disabilities who present a direct threat to the persons or property of others. Determining whether someone poses such a direct threat must be made on an individualized basis, however, and cannot be based on general assumptions or speculation about the nature of a disability.

Americans With Disabilities Act

Reasonable Accommodation

Local communities must grant reasonable accommodations in land use and zoning policies and procedures where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons or groups of persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.

  • A reasonable accommodation is a change, adaptation or modification to a policy, program, service, or workplace which will allow a qualified person with a disability to participate fully in a program, take advantage of a service, or perform a job.
  • What constitutes a reasonable accommodation is a case-by-case determination.
  • Not all requested modifications of rules or policies are reasonable.  If a requested modification imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a local government, or if a modification creates a fundamental alteration in a local government’s land use and zoning scheme, it is not a “reasonable” accommodation.
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