New Law Intended to Help Rein in Out-of-Control Rehab Facilities

Help may be on the way for the beleaguered neighbors of rehab facilities. In a major step toward protecting patients and communities throughout California, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 3162 last week, reforming requirements for the issuance of licenses for residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities.

The bill was authored by California Assemblymember Laura Friedman and co-authored by Senator Henry Stern, Senator Ben Allen, Assemblymember Melissa Melendez, and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, the bill has strong support from League of California Cities, the California Contract Cities Association (Contract Cities), California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, numerous mayors and council members, and many others.

Malibu City Councilmember Lou LaMonte has spent the past eight years pushing back against the proliferation of rehabs in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. During his term as president of the California Contract Cities he engaged a coalition of communities to join the fight.

“The rapid growth of campus-style facilities by residential licensees raised red flags for cities,” LaMonte said. “I am proud to say Contract Cities brought critical attention and accountability to residential licenses.”

AB 3162 will require that all services permitted under a residential license are provided solely at the location where the State license is issued. In addition, the bill establishes a one-year provisional license to serve as a probationary period for new licenses so that the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has time to analyze and determine compliance with regulations and update fines for non-compliance to be commensurate with similar licensing fines.

“State-licensed residential alcohol and drug abuse treatment facilities are an important treatment model enabling patients to be integrated into communities throughout California,” Assemblymember Friedman stated. “However, existing regulations created a loophole that some licensees exploited by buying multiple houses in neighborhoods, often next door to each other, in order to combine services at multiple addresses and increase their profits. AB 3162 enables the Department of Health Care Services to ensure compliance with existing licensing laws, thus protecting the patients and our communities.”

Residential alcohol and drug abuse treatment facilities are licensed by the Department of Health Care Services. A loophole in the current law restricts those facilities that serve six or fewer persons in any one location and considers them single-family residences that don’t require a  conditional use permit or zoning variance.

“Some rehabs have taken advantage of this loophole to buy up adjacent houses and create what is essentially a modular hospital, or a campus-style medical facility. These operators “overwhelm the infrastructure of residential neighborhoods—and hinder the ability for patients to experience the environment needed to successfully reintegrate into communities,” the press release states.

Facilities like these have a history of creating problems with traffic, parking, 24-hour noise and activity, frequent ambulance and paramedic visits, and occasionally a full emergency lockdown involving helicopters and police SWAT teams.

LaMonte received the news that the bill had been signed during a recent city council meeting. He described the new law as a major first step towards addressing an out-of-control issue that impacts not only residents but patients.

“I am proud to co-author AB 3162 to reform outdated regulations for the licensing of residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities to enable DHCS to ensure compliance with existing licensing laws,” said Senator Henry Stern. “AB 3162 is good for our communities, good for our neighbors, and most importantly, good for patients trying to recover.”


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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