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Airbnb Thrives While Recovery Residences Struggle For Regulation

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at January 24, 2017

I have been holding back this rant for quite some time, but with the ongoing demand to regulate Recovery Residences for consumer protection (and rightfully so), I find a strange ally in the Florida Bed and Breakfast Inns Association.

You see, Florida passed a law not that long ago which entirely precludes cities from regulating vacation rentals. (“A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals.”).  On this point, the State of Florida Attorney General has agreed and defended the pre-emption of local regulation.

So, the State of Florida has enacted and  vigorously protected legislation to allow any single-family home to be used by total strangers  as a party house and as frequently as the owner desires, without any limitation as to resident count or turnover, and that’s viewed as a good public policy. Because some residents (part-time?) with a second home wants to make additional income and really don’t care about their community? How neighborly.

But the moment the people who use the same residence as a longer-term dwelling to live in communal sobriety are the inhabitants, we lose our collective minds as if Zika has descended upon us.

What am I missing?

Patricia Detwiler, Executive Director of the Florida Bed and Breakfast Inns Association, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Palm Beach Post that the Wild West of vacation rentals is taking its toll on the safety of everyone involved:

“What sense does it make that unlicensed Airbnb property owners are not held to the same standard as traditional, licensed bed and breakfasts? To protect consumers, requirements like proper insurance, fire safety codes for commercial properties, existing local zoning laws, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act should be applied evenly to the short-term rentals next door. A simple solution would be requiring short-term rental operators to register like any other business and be required to provide the license/registration number in every advertisement.”

That said, I completely understand the internal  disagreements that recovery residence/sober home providers have between regulation, and between being treated no differently than any other family in a given neighborhood.

But even Group Homes (Community Residential Homes) which are allowed as of right in any residential neighborhood in Florida, are governed by some modicum of regulation to ensure that the “bill of goods” being sold to the residents is actually deliverable, and delivered.

All federal cases to date which have supported the right of recovery residences to be treated no differently than any other dwelling in a single-family residential neighborhood have based that conclusion upon the Oxford House model, which is supposed to be a peer-supported and democratically-run home.  To the extent the home functions as any other home in any neighborhood, the law has recognized the right of the dwelling to coexist. Such a use of a home does not fundamentally alter the zoning scheme for the neighborhood. To the contrary, un-attentive parents who let their kids party and do drugs or moreover, those who allow their homes in single-family neighborhoods to be used as vacation rentals, do cause a fundamental alteration of the zoning scheme planned by the municipality. But because people of means and influence see it otherwise, public policy shifts in their favor.

This is where the modern recovery residence movement and other “Bed and Breakfast” lodging establishments tend to be on the same page with one another.

More importantly perhaps, the recovering “addict” of today appears to be SO much different in constitution and desire than the “alcoholic” of yesterday. They are overwhelmingly young Millennials who have yet to “hit bottom” and will readily leave their homes in New Jersey and elsewhere (generally improperly if not illegally flown down on the treatment center’s dollar) to “vacation” in South Florida under the guise of treatment. [By the way, I challenge any treatment center to unequivocally prove they haven’t done this; I don’t judge it, but he who lives in glass houses should not throw stones].

Even if the patient attends the very best treatment program around (and there are a multitude of exceptional treatment programs and recovery residence providers throughout Florida), if the patient-resident is simply not ready to accept self-responsibility for their own recovery, no treatment program or recovery residence can  ever force that message home. It’s not a medication that is easily administered. Sometimes, it takes getting arrested, or overdosing, or being homeless, for the recovery journey to start in earnest.

In the meantime, the neighborhoods which are hosting the functional equivalent of boarding houses for patients attending outpatient treatment centers bear the brunt of the behavioral issues of children not of their own community, but enticed to be there like a bad dream from the Pinocchio movie.  Other parents’ behavioral issues.  No one is saying these kids are “bad” but instead, they need to be re-parented, their behavior modified, and they need supervision and care, to stop the relapse wheel from going round and round.

Without regulation on par with the same attention we give to Community Residential Homes or even B&B’s, we may as well allow any and every residence in any neighborhood be used as a vacation rental or fraternity house, with weeknight parties, drug and alcohol flowing from the countertops, and all other lewd acts taking place, all of which are universally recognized as being incompatible with the right to quiet peace and enjoyment of one’s primary residence.  Occupants of a true recovery residence, and the other neighbors, deserve better.

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