The ability to operate sober living homes in residential areas is regulated in a variety of ways, including zoning. The Wichita-Sedgwick County Unified Zoning Code regulates living arrangements of six (6) or more individuals, not related by blood or marriage, living together in a single dwelling unit. If a sober living home was occupied in such a manner, it would be governed by the Unified Zoning Code. The Unified Zoning Code permits these situations with three (3) different use categories:
- Group Home
- Group Residence, Limited
- Group Residence, General
A Correctional Placement Residence is an additional “Residence" use defined by the Unified Zoning Code that permits living arrangements within a dwelling for several individuals not related by blood or marriage. This use differs from the above three in that it is a facility that provides residential and/or rehabilitation services for individuals who have some obligation to law enforcement agencies as defined in more detail below. Due to the services they provide, the Unified Zoning Code does not permit Correctional Placement Residences in any residential zoning district in the City.
Oxford Houses typically do not house individuals with said obligations, and therefore are generally not defined in this manner.
Unified Zoning Code Definitions
Group Home means a Dwelling Unit as defined in K.S.A. 12-736 as amended, and is occupied by not more than ten persons, including eight or fewer persons with a disability who need not be related by blood or marriage and not to exceed two staff residents who need not be related by blood or marriage to each other or the residents of the home, which Dwelling Unit is licensed by a regulatory agency of the state, including the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment or the Kansas Department of Aging. Group Home also includes state licensed “Home Plus" adult care residences.
- Group Residence means a residential facility providing cooking, sleeping and sanitary accommodations for a group of people, not defined as a Family, on a weekly or longer basis. Typical uses include fraternity or sorority houses, dormitories, residence halls, boarding or lodging houses, children's homes, and emergency shelters for the homeless and for victims of crime, abuse or neglect. The term Group Residence does not include Group Homes or Correctional Placement Residences.
- Group Residence, Limited means a “Group Residence" that is occupied by six to 15 persons, including staff members who reside in the facility.
- Group Residence, General means a “Group Residence" that is occupied by more than 15 persons, including staff members who reside in the facility.
- Correctional Placement Residence means a facility for individuals or offenders that provides residential and/or rehabilitation services for those who reside or have been placed in such facilities due to any one of the following situations: (1) prior to, or instead of, being sent to prison; (2) received a conditional release prior to a hearing; (3) as a part of a local sentence of not more than one year; (4) at or near the end of a prison sentence, such as a state operated or franchised work release program, or a privately operated facility housing parolees; (5) received a deferred sentence and placed in facilities operated by community corrections; or (6) require court ordered guidance services for alcohol or chemical dependence. Such facilities will comply with the regulatory requirements of a federal, state or local government agency; and if such facilities are not directly operated by a unit of government they will meet licensure requirements that further specify minimum service standards.
- Correctional Placement Residence, Limited means a facility occupied by three to 15 individuals, including staff members who may reside there.
- Correctional Placement Residence, General means a facility occupied by more than 15 individuals, including staff members who may reside there.
Typically, a sober living home would not be classified as a “Group Home" as defined by the Unified Zoning Code because it typically is not a facility that is licensed by the State of Kansas, primarily because there is no professional treatment or care being provided to the residents within the home. However, case law has ruled that sober living homes can be considered “Group Homes" under zoning regulations pursuant to “reasonable accommodation," as established by the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act requires reasonable accommodations to aid individuals considered disabled in securing equal access to housing. Therefore, the Unified Zoning Code permits “Group Homes" as permitted uses in all residential and commercial zoning classifications.
As a “Group Home," a sober living home must comply with the defined regulations of the use category—namely, the restriction to a maximum eight (8) individuals.
Should a sober living home want to exceed the defined occupancy limit of a “Group Home," the property owner can apply for Conditional Use approval for a “Group Residence." Additional case law has upheld the right of a city to determine the number of individuals who may reside in a single dwelling unit under the “Group Home" classification, citing that cities have a legitimate interest in decreasing congestion, traffic, and noise in residential areas.
The following resources provide addition information and case law citations regarding the above information.
Fair Housing Act Website
- Schwarz v. City of Treasure Island
- Oxford House, Inc. v. City of Virginia Beach, VA
- Oxford House v. City of St. Louis