Sober living in Orange County can be a wonderful transitional step after completing substance abuse rehabilitation treatments. It is proven to be a beneficial step in helping former addicts work toward living a sober life for the long term. As with every part of addiction treatment, you should have good information about the facility in order to protect yourself or your loved one and help to facilitate a successful recovery. An important question that we are often asked is, “do sober living homes in Orange County need to be licensed?” 


What is the Concern About Sober Living Homes in Orange County? 


The current proliferation of sober living homes in Orange County and surrounding areas have raised concerns among homeowners and residential organizations. These concerns center around the effect that sober living homes have on the neighborhoods in which they are located. Some bad actors have attempted to use sober living homes for less than honorable purposes, and in turn, have contaminated public opinion against all sober living homes in Orange County to a certain degree. 

Other concerns include the effects of sober living homes on a community, the supposed changes they cause, and frankly, a discriminatory and biased attitude about having “drug addicts” living in the neighborhood. The stigma attached to substance addiction seems to still color the thinking of many. 

Citizens groups and California lawmakers have sought to create some form of regulation and/or restrictions on sober living homes with a view toward reducing the number of them in operation, restricting the number of residents they can serve, and even relegating them to certain communities or zoned areas. 

Under current federal regulations, sober living homes are allowed in residential areas. This is due to The Fair Housing Act as amended in 1988, which promotes the integration of individuals with disabilities into the community. The FHA prohibits zoning or land use decisions or policies that exclude or otherwise discriminate against individuals with disabilities and other protected classes. 

According to The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, discrimination against individuals with disabilities is prohibited. A later clarification by The Supreme Court declared that the ADA requires states to place individuals in community settings rather than institutions. Both the FHA and the ADA defines “handicapped” status to include recovering alcoholics and addicts. 



What Ordinances Affect Sober Living Homes in Orange County?


According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP), a license is required to operate any residential facility that offers any of the following non-medical services to those who are in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse: 


  • Detox 
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Personal therapy sessions
  • Educational workshops to aid in a better understanding of addiction, recovery, and drug-related issues
  • Treatment planning for ongoing recovery 


Sober living homes that simply prohibit residents from using drugs and alcohol, but provide none of the services listed above, are not required by law to secure licensing. However, that could be changing. Sunset Shores provides a range of therapy and workshops for our residents and is fully licensed to do so. 

Orange County is currently seeking to require sober living homes in unincorporated areas to obtain operating permits, be at least 1000 feet from other substance abuse rehabilitation facilities, and house no more than six residents. In addition, a staff person will be required to remain on-site at all times. In January 2020, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Zoning Code Amendment CA 20-01 that imposes these and other restrictions on sober living homes within the unincorporated portions of the county. 

Proponents of this legislation see these steps as benefiting both sober living homes and the Orange County communities in which they are located. Third District Supervisor Don Wagner, as recorded in the Orange County Register, said: 

“There are men and women out in our communities who are trying to put their lives back together again, who are doing what we [ask] them to do, in terms of staying sober, staying out of trouble, staying on the right side of the law and learning to live again in an environment that respects rules, respects neighbors, respects others’ rights as well. The men and women that are trying to do that deserve our support. The homes in which they are living, trying to do that, deserve our support. And what this ordinance does is provide that support.”




Is Licensing Really Necessary? 


Proponents of licensing or further regulation of sober living homes in Orange County seek to impose many of the same guidelines that are required for rehabilitation facilities that provide medical services and therapies. This is unfair and unwarranted for a facility that only seeks to provide a supportive and safe living community where recovering addicts can practice new sober habits.

A strictly voluntary certification program already exists in Orange County, and it provides a yearly certification for reputable and effective sober living facilities that seek to separate themselves from other, sub-standard facilities. In 2001, the Board of Supervisors approved the Orange County Adult Alcohol and Drug Sober Living Facilities Certification Program

While not mandatory, certification through this program, which is overseen by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, requires that sober living facilities provide documented evidence that they are in compliance with a number of certification guidelines. These guidelines cover such areas as: 


  • Written policies and procedures for operation 
  • Insurance coverages
  • Staff background checks and training 
  • Drug use policy/prohibitions 
  • Resident selection criteria 
  • Written intake procedures 
  • Required resident participation in recovery activities 
  • Interaction guidelines for residents 
  • Visitation policy 
  • Food services policy 
  • Maintenance of residents’ files 


These and other guidelines simply reflect the common practices of reputable, efficient, and effective sober living facilities located throughout Newport Beach, Long Beach, and Orange County. 

The practices and policies of any sober living home which you or a loved one may be considering for residency can be easily discovered. Recovering addicts who believe that a sober living environment would be a beneficial next step in their recovery journey should tour prospective facilities, meet with the director, and ask important questions. This discovery phase should not be rushed. 

So, do sober living homes in Orange County need to be licensed? For now, no. However, many of the best sober living homes in Orange County operate with stringent guidelines for the benefit of residents, regardless of licensing. At Sunset Shores, we ensure that we are always operating within the law, going above and beyond and legal requirements. Whether the law requires certification or not, we hold ourselves to a higher standard because the health and wellbeing of our residents are what matters most to us.