Can Bed and Breakfast Become Group Home?

Visitor Question: In a non-zoned area, can a property with multiple buildings being used as a bed and breakfast be sold as a residential property for a non profit group home?

Editors Reply: For benefit of our other readers, the term "group home" is often applied to a halfway house accommodating people returning from an alcohol or drug treatment program or from prison. More benign situations may be adults with developmental disabilities or autism, or various types of adolescent situations, such as those who "age out of" a foster care system at age 18. There are many other types of social needs that group homes run by a non-profit organization might address.

To answer the question, if there is no zoning ordinance in effect, yes, the bed and breakfast can be sold for a group home, an office complex, a family compound, or almost anything else. Zoning is the primary way in which land use is regulated in the U.S.

One other possibility is that the current or previous owner of the bed and breakfast placed a deed restriction on the property. In that case, it depends on what the deed restriction says. If there is a deed restriction or restrictive covenant that says that the property must forever be used as a bed and breakfast, then the picture changes.

But even in that event, if the current property owner is the one that imposed the deed restriction, and the current owner now wishes to sell to a non-profit operating a group home, the property owner can easily remove the deed restriction. If it was a prior owner that imposed the restriction, though, the legal process for lifting the restriction could become considerably more complex--involving contacting all heirs of the previous owner and obtaining their agreement, for instance.

Note that in the U.S., as a generalization, group homes have to be allowed in single-family zoning districts. For details and nuances, interested readers should check out the 1995 Supreme Court case, City of Edmonds (Washington) v. Oxford House. That decision was based on an interpretation of the Fair Housing Act. Many types of group homes also may enjoy additional legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We know that our original questioner stated that there is no zoning ordinance in the location in question, but we wanted to point out those details for other people.

In sum, then, in an area where there is no zoning, the bed and breakfast buildings definitely can be converted to a group home.

If you are a neighbor who is dismayed by this turn of events, as most single-family residents who see a neighboring property becoming a group home are, you don't have much leverage at all in this situation. Short of persuasion, you will have to learn to live with new neighbors. If there are any kinds of disturbances, extra traffic, or noise, be sure to complain to appropriate authorities.

This event might even cause your jurisdiction (maybe a village, county, or township) to think about enacting a simple zoning ordinance.

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