The City of Lakewood prepared answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Adult Family Home businesses in an effort to provide public information around what the city can and cannot do when it comes to regulation of these businesses.
The City of Lakewood’s interpretation of the Adult Family Home statute is that these businesses are meant to provide residential living for our most vulnerable residents. Over the last year the City learned the state is also using these businesses to house violent offenders.
In an attempt to hold the state accountable the City filed a lawsuit in May 2018 against the state and the state Department of Social and Health Services. A Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled against the City in September 2018 stating state law preempts any city regulation on this matter.
Here is an update on where the City stands legally, and answers to commonly asked questions around Adult Family Home businesses:
Question: Will the City appeal the court’s ruling?
Answer: The City reserved its right to appeal, but presently does not believe an appeal will accomplish its ultimate goal to change state law to prevent violent offenders from living in Adult Family Home businesses alongside vulnerable adults. The following factors influenced this decision:
- The court identified the Governor’s Office and State Legislature as the proper arena for addressing the City’s concerns around Adult Family Home businesses. Keeping the matter in court while also asking the legislature to find a solution could result in a delay in legislation because legislators may wait to see what happens in court. The likelihood of success in court is not good.
- By appealing the City opens itself up for the potential for cross-claims including:
- Pre-emption (state law pre-empts city regulations);
- Violation of Washington housing policies and the Growth Management Act;
- Violation of Washington law against discrimination;
- Violation of the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.
If cross-claims were filed it could ultimately result in the City being required to pay the state’s attorney’s fees. The state filed cross claims with the original lawsuit, bringing a separate action before the Growth Management Hearings Board and a cross-claim against two city ordinances which ultimately resulted in the judge throwing out the ordinances. If the City appeals, the state can file a cross-claim against the City for any of the above. If a judge agrees with the state’s claims, the City could be required to pay the state’s attorney’s fees from the inception of the case. Based on review by legal counsel hired by the City, there is a strong possibility an appeal would end this way.
In order to enhance the impact at the legislative level and avoid the potential for a ruling that exposes the City to financial risk, the City will pursue resolution through a legislative effort.
Question: What can the City of Lakewood do to regulate Adult Family Home businesses?
Answer: In September the Pierce County Superior Court ruled that regulation of Adult Family Home businesses rests entirely with the state. Cities have no control or authority. That means:
- The City cannot limit the number of Adult Family Home businesses in any given neighborhood or throughout the city;
- The City cannot enforce density and distance requirements, such as requiring at least 1,000 feet between Adult Family Home businesses;
- The City does not have authority to enforce any regulation aimed at Adult Family Home businesses; and
- Authorization of Adult Family Home businesses or regulation of these businesses rests solely with the Governor’s Office and the State Legislature.
Question: What requirements do Adult Family Home businesses need to meet to operate legally?
Answer: The City requires all businesses within city limits to hold a City of Lakewood business license. DSHS has a lengthy information sheet available on its website around the operations of an Adult Family Home business and what is required. It can be found at: www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/residential-care-services/afh-information
Question: Where can Adult Family Home businesses be located?
Answer: Pursuant to state law, Adult Family Home businesses are allowed wherever residential housing is allowed and can also be allowed in a commercial zone.
Question: How do I find out if an Adult Family Home business has been authorized by DSHS in my neighborhood?
Answer: Visit DSHS’ website and use the Adult Family Home locator tool. Input “Lakewood” or your zip code to find a complete list.
The web address: fortress.wa.gov/dshs/adsaapps/lookup/AFHPubLookup.aspx
Question: If I have a complaint about an Adult Family Home business who do I contact?
Answer: Adult Family Home businesses are licensed by the state. Contact the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services) complaint hotline at 1-800-562-6078, or go to the website and fill out an online report at: www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/report-concerns-involving-vulnerable-adults
Question: Do Adult Family Home businesses have to provide parking for employees?
Answer: No. Because the businesses are considered residential uses there are no parking requirements.
Question: Are sex offenders living in Adult Family Home businesses?
Answer: Through public records requests the City of Lakewood learned of one Adult Family Home business on Topaz Drive SW with three residents who are registered sex offenders. One is a Level 1 offender (low risk to re-offend), one is a Level 2 (moderate risk to re-offend) and one is a Level 3 (high risk to re-offend).
The City also learned over the summer of the state’s plans to release three sexually violent predators from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island into an Adult Family Home business in Lakewood. According to Thurston County court records from October 2018 the state plans to release one of the men, a Level 3 offender, to an Adult Family Home business on 86th Street SW by the end of November 2018. The City has not received information about the status of the two other violent offenders who are also Level 3 offenders.
Question: What has Lakewood done to regulate Adult Family Home businesses?
Answer: In May 2018 the Lakewood City Council approved two ordinances aimed at regulating Adult Family Home businesses. The City Council then authorized filing a lawsuit against the state and DSHS in an attempt to stop the practice of releasing violent offenders into Adult Family Home businesses. That suit was filed in May 2018. A July 2018 emergency motion followed, requesting a judge stop the release of three sexually violent predators from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island into an Adult Family Home business in Lakewood. The judge ruled against the City’s emergency motion.
In September the City’s lawsuit against the state was dismissed and the ordinances deemed invalid by a Pierce County Superior Court ruling. The court’s message was clear: This is a matter that needs to be addressed by the Governor’s Office and State Legislature.
Question: What solution is Lakewood proposing to the Governor’s Office and State Legislature?
Answer: Lakewood remains committed to finding a solution to prevent the placement of violent offenders into residential settings without adequate security measures in place.
The City has identified the following legislative solutions for the State Legislature and Governor’s Office to pursue:
- Make it illegal to put predatory criminals into Adult Family Home businesses;
- Remove the part of the law that allows Adult Family Home businesses to convert into Enhanced Services Facilities (ESF) and prohibit ESFs from locating in residential zoned neighborhoods;
- Make the process for court review of people who go into Adult Family Home businesses from prison or a state hospital open and transparent to the public and provide for local input;
- Address the number and proliferation of so many Adult Family Home businesses in Lakewood and other communities;
- Require the state to return violent offenders to their county of origin upon their release from state-run institutions; and
- Form a task force to provide a comprehensive review of how Adult Family Home businesses operate in the state and identify legislative solutions to address outstanding concerns (task force should have specific begin and end date with deadline for report to State Legislature).
Lakewood fights for its residents in court (Aug. 3, 2018 post to city website)
Lakewood loses in court, vows to continue fight for its residents (Sept.21, 2018 post to city website)
Documents available related to Lakewood’s lawsuit against DSHS (Sept. 24, 2018 post to city website)