How Do I Start a Sober Living Business in California?

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A sober-living home or halfway house is a step toward normalcy for people grappling with substance abuse. Addicts emerging from rehab choose sober living because it gives them more freedom than rehab but with a support system to help keep their demons at bay. If you're starting a sober-living-home business, you'll face less regulation than a therapeutic or rehabilitation facility.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Before opening your halfway house, identify your target market. Wealthy residents may want more amenities than an unemployed addict who just hopes to stay sober. Find the right house for your target market and decide how many residents you can handle. Research local regulations for sober-living homes.

What Is Sober Living?

Drug or alcohol rehab is a tightly controlled environment where professionals work to break patients of their addiction. For some addicts, leaving rehab for their old, unmonitored life feels like jumping off a cliff. A halfway house offers a way to ease back into a normal life without falling back into old patterns.

  • Sober-living residents can largely come and go as they please, though there may be curfews and mandatory meetings.

  • Residents bond with each other. They're all recovering addicts, so they can form a support system until they're ready to leave.

  • The sober-living house gives residents a base from which they can prepare to return to normal life — for example, hunting for a job, finding housing and reconnecting with family and friends.

  • Most sober-living homes require that residents participate in some sort of recovery program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Typically, residents stay 90 days, but they can stretch out their stay longer if they have the money and the need.

Starting a Sober-Living-Home Business

Like most businesses, the profitability of sober houses depends on good planning. If you invest in a house for two dozen residents and only get five, that's going to hurt your bottom line. If you plan for five and get two dozen applications, you're missing out. Ask and answer some key questions:

  • What's your target clientele? Some homes are cheap and Spartan, and others are more like vacation spas with $10,000 a month rent.

  • Do you want on-site management and staff?

  • How many beds will be profitable, and how much will you charge for each resident?

  • Can you obtain California grants, or are you entirely privately funded?

  • How much insurance will you need?

  • What rules will you impose on residents?

  • Does the zoning allow for multifamily homes?

  • How will you find your residents? One study in Sacramento County found that almost half of sober-home residents either picked the place themselves or got a recommendation from family or friends.

If you can afford a consulting service, there are companies that will be happy to help figure out some of this for you.

Requirements for a Sober-Living Home

The requirements for a sober-living home are much lighter than for treatment facilities. California and several of its cities have attempted to regulate them but with limited success.

Halfway houses don't treat addiction or provide therapy, so they aren't subject to the same regulations as a rehab facility. Addicts are legally considered disabled individuals, so discriminating against them is a no-go. If your sober-living home meets the normal zoning standards, imposing extra requirements for sober-living homes is discrimination.

Nevertheless, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of addicts living next door, so local governments keep looking for ways to restrict or regulate them. Whether you're in Laguna Beach or Sacramento, research whether there are any current restrictions, whether you can meet them and whether it's worth fighting in court to overturn them.

Certifying Sober Living

Even though it's not required, you might want to get your sober-living home certified or accredited. The Sober Living Network, for instance, has been accrediting homes in Southern California for more than 20 years. Accreditation demonstrates you're not just out to exploit addicts and make a buck off their suffering.

Requirements for a sober-living home to receive accreditation could include whether there are rules in place and a way for staff to enforce them, a residents' council to address grievances and regular social activities.

Some California counties have adopted certification programs for sober-living homes that apply for county grants. The requirements could include regular home inspections, bans on smoking in the front yard and on loud and vulgar language and a policy of dealing promptly with neighbor complaints.