Group Homes and Sober Living Facilities
Group living arrangements, such as group homes for the elderly and sober living facilities, have increased in the U.S. since the 1970s after a national movement to deinstitutionalize group living. The City Code has long recognized a variety of group living arrangements. Some of these arrangements are permitted as a use by right (requiring no notice or approval), and some arrangements require Special Use Permits.
The City Code was updated in February 2020 by Council’s approval of Ordinance 1684. Provided below are the answers to frequently asked questions to help our community better understand group living arrangements in Wheat Ridge.
For group home owners/operators: Please scroll to the bottom of the page for information on the semi-annual self-certification form.
What is a residential group home?
The term "residential group home" refers generally to a group of unrelated person living together. In Section 26-123 of the Wheat Ridge City Code, the term refers to 5 specific types of group living arrangements:
- Group homes for children – These homes are licensed by the County or State for children 18 years of age or younger.
- Group homes for elderly – These homes are for residents who are 60 years of age or older and who do not need skilled or intermediate care but may still have live-in staff.
- Congregate care home – These homes are for residents who are 60 years of age or older and who may need limited nursing care. Unlike a group home for elderly persons, in congregate care, meals are prepared and kitchen facilities are not provided to individual residents.
- Nursing home – These facilities are licensed by the state and provided around the clock medical care.
- Group homes for the disabled – These homes are for residents who meet state and federal definitions for handicapped or disabled.
What is a group home for the disabled?
This type of use refers to a residence occupied exclusively 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). The term handicapped is defined in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and the term disabled is defined in Colorado Revised States in § 24-34-301. For the purpose of City Code and on this page, the terms are considered to mean the same thing.
Persons with disabilities have a condition that substantially limits major life activities. The Federal definition of what constitutes a disabled or handicapped person has expanded over time and includes persons experiencing developmentally disabilities, physically disabilities, blindess, hearing and mobility impairment, and mental illness. In addition, Federal law classifies individuals recovering from alcohol and drug abuse (not presently using) as disabled. These persons are called “protected classes.”
Group homes for the disabled are limited by state law to have no more than one resident registered as a sex offender. 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.
Why are group homes allowed in Wheat Ridge?
The Colorado legislature declared that group living (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. 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 Wheat Ridge.
What is a sober living home?
This term does not appear in the Wheat Ridge zoning code, rather a sober living home is considered a group home for disabled persons. A sober living home is a residence for individuals who recovering from substance abuse disorders (drug and/or alcohol addiction). This living arrangement helps residents become more fully functioning within the community after they have completed intensive inpatient treatment service. Life in a sober living home promotes independent living and development of life schools. Sober living homes require that residents complete a rehabilitation program prior to living in a sober living home, and residents are often continuing outpatient therapy while residing in the sober living home.
Why are sober living homes allowed in Wheat Ridge?
Individuals who are recovering from substance abuse (and not actively using) are considered to have a disability under federal law. This is because drug addiction and alcoholism meet the federal definition of a disability. Disabled persons are a federally protected class, cannot be discriminated against, and must be provided equal housing opportunities. As a protected class, residential group homes for disabled persons are considered to be 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 and by Wheat Ridge code in the same way as other residential uses.
How are sober living homes regulated by the state and City?
At the state level, House Bill 19-1009, went into effect in 2019 and introduced new legislation providing oversight for Sober Living Facilities. As of January 1, 2020, all Sober Living Facilities have to obtain certification from the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services, unless the facility is chartered by Oxford House, or has operated as a recovery residence in Colorado for 30 or more years. The certification requirements will be established by the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health.
In Wheat Ridge, group homes are regulated by Section 26-612 of the code (as amended in February 2020 by Ordinance 1684). Because group homes for the disabled must be treated in the same way as a traditional single-unit home, they cannot be required to register through the business licensing process. In Wheat Ridge, all types of group homes are asked to self-certify twice a year to confirm they are still in compliance with state, county, and city requirements.
How big can a group home be?
Group homes for children, elderly, and disabled are treated in the same way in terms of size:
- Permitted in all residential zone districts with eight (8) or fewer residents
- Requiring a special use permit in all residential zone districts with nine (9) to fifteen (15) residents
- Not permitted with over 15 residents in residential zone districts (group homes of this size would be considered more institutional in nature and more appropriate in a commercial context)
State and federal laws require that cities provide a process to review “reasonable accommodations” for any protected class which may result in group homes that vary in size from the code and are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Can I make a complaint about a sober living home or other group living arrangement?
Group homes that comply with the City’s zoning requirements are permitted in a neighborhood. Group homes and sober living homes are subject to the same rules as all other property in the City. They must also comply with the City’s building, land use, nuisance and criminal codes that apply universally to all residences in the community. Sober living homes are treated by federal law in the same way as any other single-unit residence. The City does not license, inspect, or enforce upon single-unit homes without cause, and cannot license, inspect or enforce upon a group home or sober living home without cause.
Can the City 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 City does not notice a neighborhood when a new family moves in, the City cannot send a notice when a sober living home moves in.
Do group homes or sober living homes require rezoning?
No. As noted above group homes and sober living facilities with up to 8 residents are permitted in all residential zone districts. Larger group homes may require approval through a special use permit, but there is no rezoning action required.
For Group Home Owners/Operators
City Council approved Ordinance 1684 in February 2020, requiring all group homes to submit a self-certification form to the City two (2) times per year. The purpose of the self-certification is to ensure that group homes of all types are compliant with local regulations. The form can be downloaded from the link provided below.
You may submit your completed form electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to City of Wheat Ridge, Attn: Community Development, 7500 W. 29th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033. For questions, please call the zoning hotline at 303-234-5931.