FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Cellphone video captured what neighbors say is a frequent occurrence at a house across the street from them in Fort Lauderdale: A black SUV pulls into the driveway. The driver honks the horn, and over the next several minutes, people appear from inside of the house.
One-by-one, they load into the SUV, and eventually, the SUV pulls away from the house.
"I would say they've been operating there for at least the last eight to 10 months," Joe Davis said.
Davis lives nearby and said there's been a noticeably higher volume of activity at Northeast 55th Street in Fort Lauderdale.
One day, a neighbor followed one of the SUVs after it left the home until it reached its final destination: 1730 Commercial Blvd.
"The name on the front of the facility [was], The Source," Davis said.
The Source is an addiction and recovery treatment center. The black SUVs were parked in the lot when the Leave it to Layron team stopped by.
None of the staff members we spoke with were willing to answer our questions when we visited, but we did receive a statement from an attorney representing the treatment center.
"Part of recovery is helping patients find sober living during and after treatment," the statement read, identifying the house on 55th Street as one of those sites.
Broward County property records show a developer owns the property.
"Obviously, they found a new tenant," Davis said.
The LITL team met Davis at his home, where more than two dozen neighbors had gathered, concerned about the activity at the home.
"I understand that these people may have a right to take occupancy in a residential neighborhood, but who's vetting these people?" Davis asked.
A new Fort Lauderdale ordinance went into effect last spring to regulate community residences.
A city memo defines a community residence as "a residential living arrangement for unrelated individuals with disabilities living as a single functional family in a single dwelling who are in need of the mutual support furnished by other residents…as well as support services."
Before adopting the ordinance, the city conducted a study to make sure its new ordinance lined up with fair housing laws. City staff also worked with the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) to identify properties operating as community residences. FARR is an agency that certifies community residences.
Under the city's new ordinance, community residences are required to register with the city and be certified by the state credentialing agency, if one is available.
We checked with code enforcement and learned the city had 36 proactive community residence applications. We also learned the city was aware of nearly 87 possible community residences. Some of those had open enforcement cases, or complaints, including the house on Northeast 55th Street.
"I think a lot of people in the city of Fort Lauderdale are going to be very, very disappointed to learn that there are going to be several of these places opening and that the city is not being proactive in enforcing the code," Davis asked.
One enforcement case was closed at Northeast 55th Street in December after inspectors found no one at the property, no activity and no vehicles.
Days after we started asking questions though, code enforcement officers opened a case against the property for operating as an unregistered community residence. We've learned an application was mailed out, along with an inspection report. A re-inspection is scheduled for Feb. 13.
The Source's attorney's statement read:
"The Source treatment center is a Florida licensed treatment facility committed to helping those suffering from the disease of addiction.
"On, or around July 1, 2018, this property applied for FARR certification, which is still in process, and is required before the city of Fort Lauderdale will issue a certification as a community residence. This property has been actively working with the city of Fort Lauderdale to meet the requirement, and has been and is currently still undertaking any and all steps necessary to ensure compliance.
"The Source is committed to working within its local community and will gladly respond to any concerns or questions from its neighbors. Part of recovery is demonstrating a commitment to community and The Source wants to lead by example for its patients."
"We have a great community here," Davis said. "I don't believe that particular use of that property is conducive with the environment that we've set forth here over the last 20 to 30 years."
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