With the passage of federal and State laws protecting disabled individuals, we see a societal push away from institutionalized living arrangements and towards community based, group home settings. This firm is frequently asked how, or if, an association can prohibit these group living arrangements within their community. Sometimes residents are worried that the group home occupants will pose a safety risk; there are also concerns about parking and transient residents; and fundamentally, associations may question whether this type of group living arrangement is consistent with single family residential use. The purpose of this blog is to provide a broad overview of the law applicable to group home living arrangements in community associations in North Carolina and practical guidance on the association’s enforcement rights related to these homes.
Let’s define what is meant by a group or family care home. North Carolina law defines a family care home as a “home with support and supervisory personnel that provides room and board, personal care, and habilitation services in a family environment for not more than six resident persons with disabilities.” Basically, the idea is that individuals with physical or mental disabilities, including substance addiction, live together in a familial situation, sharing common space, meals and some level of care by the on-site personnel. Sometimes the disabilities are obvious; but in the case of mental disabilities or substance dependency, can be difficult to identify. Most commonly, associations become aware of the group home usage indirectly, through word of mouth or after a violation notice is sent over the single family usage restriction. If a property owner advises the association that a home is being used for a group home setting, it is appropriate for the association to verify this in some reasonable way. How that is done will be very fact-specific, and associations with questions about this should contact their association counsel to discuss.
Once a group or family care home is identified, associations should understand the applicable legal protections. In this State, communities are subject to both the federal Fair Housing Act and the State Fair Housing Act, which prevent discrimination in housing on the basis of familial status. The State Act generally follows the federal Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Equal Access Rule defines “family” for purposes of its housing programs to include, regardless of marital status, any group of persons presenting for assistance together with or without children and irrespective of age, relationship, or whether or not a member of the household has a disability. This type of living arrangement is protected, and cannot be prevented under the single family restriction. Further, North Carolina specifically renders void restrictions which prohibit the use of property as family care homes. This means that those restrictions are of no legal effect, and an association with these restrictions can consider them as stricken, without the necessity to amend the recorded covenants to do so.
Even if an association cannot prohibit (or does not want to try to prohibit) a group home in a single family residential community, does not mean that the home or its residents are exempt from the association’s general use restrictions. These lots are still subject to maintenance and use restrictions generally. The yard should still be mowed, siding kept in good repair, and rules related to parking and noise followed. In our experience, if the association works with the lot owner to make sure that rules are followed and the property is maintained in an attractive way, this goes a long way to addressing neighbor concerns.
And, to be clear, the group home protections do not extend to transient housing for large groups, or hotel uses for non-disabled persons. The group home protections created by federal and State law have a narrow scope, and are intended to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of a disabled community and the contractual rights of those living in a community association. These issues can be complex, and often elicit strong feelings within a community. Associations are well served to consult with their managers and attorneys to understand fully their rights and obligations. If you wish to discuss any issue related to group homes, please reach out to any of our community association attorneys in Charlotte, Greensboro, the Triangle or Wilmington, North Carolina, or Columbia or Greenville, South Carolina.