The Johnstown Town Council approved changes to local ordinances to clarify the legal definition of 'group homes" and to provide standards and procedures to allow the Town to grant reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities seeking equal access to housing under the Federal Fair Housing Act.
The changes will provide framework and guidance for the introduction of ‘group homes’ into the Johnstown Community.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions to help our community better understand group living arrangements.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a Group Home?
Generally, the term “Group Home” refers to housing occupied by a group of unrelated persons with disabilities that are a protected class under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or as defined in C.R.S. 31-23-303. These facilities provide housing, personal care and rehabilitation services, affording individuals with disabilities the same right to use and enjoy a home as individuals without disabilities. A Group Home typically functions as a single housekeeping unit, sharing kitchen, bathrooms and other facilities. Group Homes, like all other property in the Town, must also comply with the Town’s building, land use, and criminal codes, and any other applicable laws. The Town will enforce against any violations of these laws but cannot do so in a disparate manner from any other residential property.
- Why are Group Homes allowed in Johnstown neighborhoods?
The Town is legally obligated under state and federal law to provide "reasonable accommodations" to any protected class. The Colorado legislature declared that group living for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, behavioral or mental health disorders, or who are over the age of 60 years old (for up to eight persons) is a residential use and a “matter of statewide concern.” This means that state law requires local governments to recognize Group Homes as a residential land use in local zoning codes and to allow them in residential neighborhoods and in residential settings, including single-unit residential homes. Additionally, the FFHA and the ADA prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and prohibit local governments from enacting zoning or land use decisions that discriminate against protected persons. If the Group Home is operated for the care of elderly or the disabled, the home is licensed and regulated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. For this reason, Group Homes for children, elderly, and disabled persons with eight or fewer residents are a permitted use in all residential zone districts in Johnstown. The list of licensed facilities can be found on the Department’s website.
- What is a Sober Living Facility?
A “Sober Living Facility” (sometimes referred to as “sober home” or “recovery residence”) is a housing facility that helps those recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction (diagnosed as “substance use disorders”) transition back into the community after undergoing intensive inpatient treatment services. These homes promote independent living and the development of life skills and provide structured activities and recovery support services to those recovering from substance use disorders. The homes are free from alcohol and nonprescription or illicit drugs. Residents are required to go through rehabilitation prior to living in the home and continue to undergo treatment as a condition of living in the home. The number of residents living in each home varies as do in-house rules. A Sober Living Facility is considered a type of Group Home.
- Why are Sober Living Facilities allowed in Johnstown neighborhoods?
Under federal law, individuals recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction are considered to have a disability, as drug addiction and alcoholism are physical impairments that can substantially limit major life activities. Individuals with disabilities are a federally protected class of people; protected by both the FFHA and the ADA. As a protected class, persons unrelated living in a Sober Living Facility are considered to be the functional equivalent of a “family” and therefore have been allowed as a permitted use in all residential districts. For this reason, sober living facilities are treated by law in the same way as other residential uses. Under these federal laws, cities and towns are obligated to provide individuals with disabilities “reasonable accommodations” upon request in order to provide equal housing opportunities.
- How are Sober Living Facilities regulated?
House Bill 19-1009, which went into effect in 2019, introduced new State legislation that provides oversight for Sober Living Facilities. After January 1, 2020, all Sober Living Facilities will have to obtain certification from a certifying body approved by the State Office of Behavioral Health. This certifying body is the Colorado Agency of Recovery Residences (CARR). The certification is not required if the facility is chartered by Oxford House, or has operated as a recovery residence in Colorado for 30 or more years.Sober Living Facilities, like all other property in the Town, must also comply with the Town’s building, land use, and criminal codes, and any other applicable laws. The Town will enforce against any violations of these laws but cannot do so in a disparate manner from any other residential property. In Johnstown, Sober Living Facilities are asked to recertify annually to confirm they are still in compliance with state, county, and town requirements.
- What is a "reasonable accommodation?"
The FFHA and the ADA prohibit discrimination by requiring local governments to make "reasonable accommodations" in their rules, policies, practices or services when necessary to give people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. Courts have consistently ruled that this requirement applies to zoning and other land use regulations. To comply with federal law, cities and towns must provide residents of group homes and sober living facilities that house individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodation upon request. This is generally done in the form of an adjustment to zoning regulations which includes considering all residents as a single family until for the purpose of limits on unrelated individuals living in a single residential home. This ensures that the Town is in compliance with federal regulations. For more information on reasonable accommodations under the fair housing act, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a joint statement.
- Can Johnstown send me a notice if a sober living home is established in my neighborhood?
No. As noted above, under federal law sober living homes are to be treated in the same way as any other single-unit residence. In the same way the Town does not notice a neighborhood when a new family moves in, the Town cannot send a notice when a sober living home moves in.
- Do Group Homes or Sober Living Facilities require zoning?
No, Group Homes and sober living facilities are generally a permitted use in most residential zone districts. There is no rezoning action required by the Town Council. Noise, maintenance and other potential issues will still be governed by Town zoning and ordinances as they are for any other residential home. For more information on sober living facilities and certified locations, please visit:
- Are there limits on the number of people in a group home?
Courts have consistently held that limits on unrelated persons who may reside in a dwelling unit do not apply to Group Home or Sober Living facilities as those are considered a single-family unit. The number of residents that may reside in a Group Home or Sober Living facility will be determined on a case-by-case basis considering factors relevant to the specific property.
- Are there limits on the number of people in homes not operated as a group home, sober living facility or other 'reasonable accommodation'?
In addition to the limits specified by building code, the Town prohibits more than 3 unrelated adults living in a single residential home. If the home has not requested reasonable accommodation as a group home or sober living facility, the Town’s code enforcement will follow up to determine if the home is in compliance with the Town’s zoning codes.