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A drug and alcohol treatment facility qualifies as a “dwelling” under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because its patients “treat the facility like a home,” even if its average stay is just two weeks, the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The decision in Lakeside Resort Enterprises v. Board of Supervisors of Palmyra Township, No. 05-1163, reversed a decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, who tossed out an FHA claim. In the suit, the owners of a resort in Pike County, Pa., claimed they had struck a $1.75 million deal to sell a hotel to Greenaway Inc., which intended to use the building as an addiction treatment center. The deal fell apart, the suit said, when Palmyra Township’s board of supervisors passed a zoning ordinance in January 2001 that prohibited drug and alcohol treatment facilities in its “community commercial” zones. After losing the sale, Lakeside sued the township in federal court, claiming that the ordinance violated both the FHA and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Definition of ‘dwelling’ The 3d Circuit said that Caputo erred in tossing out the FHA claim on the ground that a drug-treatment center does not qualify as a dwelling due to trial testimony that showed its patients would stay on average just 14.8 days. Caputo held that the facility did not meet the FHA’s definition of a “dwelling” because 14.8 days is not a “significant period of time,” and because patients would be like “mere transients” who would not view the facility as a permanent residence and would be there solely for treatment. A unanimous three-judge panel of the 3d Circuit found that Caputo took too narrow a reading of the statute, and that courts must give a “generous construction” to the FHA’s “broad and inclusive” language. U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro, in an opinion joined by 3d Circuit Senior Judge Walter K. Stapleton and visiting U.S. District Judge Tom Stagg of the Western District of Louisiana, noted that the 3d Circuit previously has held that a nursing home and a summer bungalow qualify as dwellings under the FHA, and wrote “approvingly” of decisions from other courts that said a motel cannot be deemed a dwelling but that an AIDS hospice and a children’s home did qualify. Although the term “residence” is not defined in the FHA, Ambro wrote that courts have consistently applied a dictionary definition, under which a residence is “a temporary or permanent dwelling place, abode or habitation to which one intends to return as distinguished from the place of temporary sojourn or transient visit.” In the summer bungalow case, U.S. v. Columbus Country Club, 915 F.2d 877, 881 (3d Cir. 1990), Ambro said the circuit announced two factors that courts should use in deciding whether a facility is a dwelling-whether it is “intended or designed” for occupants who “intend to remain . . . for any significant period of time,” and whether those occupants would “view [it] as a place to return to” during that period. Although the 3d Circuit has never precisely defined what it meant by the term “significant period of time,” Ambro noted that the summer bungalow case held that five months was significant, and that the nursing home qualified because its residents would likely live there “for the rest of [their] lives.” At the treatment center, some of the residents would stay “for extended periods, thereby satisfying with ease the significant-stay factor,” he wrote. “Although residents in treatment were apparently not allowed off the grounds of the facility unsupervised, testimony showed that they treated it like a home for the duration of their stays,” he added.

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