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Susan Sanderson, executive director of the Realistic Success Recovery Society, says spot checks would provide more safety to clients.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A new registration system for recovery houses is a positive development but should have more regulatory bite, including random spot checks, says one operator in the business.

"The certification is wonderful and I am thrilled by it, but they [the province] need to do spot checks," Susan Sanderson, president of the Realistic Success Recovery Society said on Wednesday.

"If I am an operator that is only supposed to have 12 beds, but I have really had 16 – and if you phone me and tell me you're coming, I'm going to remove those four extra beds."

Recovery houses serve clients with mental-health or substance-abuse issues. Spot checks would provide more safety and accountability to clients, Ms. Sanderson said.

Realistic Success was founded by former Surrey councillor Gary Robinson, who battled substance abuse himself before starting the venture. He died of a heart ailment last year.

Regulatory standards for recovery houses have been part of a broader discussion of crime, public safety and policing that gained urgency after the beating death of Julie Paskall, who was assaulted outside a Newton recreation centre on December 29 and died two days later. Police have not linked the incident to recovery homes – saying the most likely motive was robbery – but residents have cited the proliferation of recovery houses in Surrey as a public-safety concern.

Those concerns – which are shared by municipal officials, including Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts – include illicit drug use, overcrowding and financial abuse, most often in the form of unscrupulous operators who demand clients' social-assistance cheques and then evict them or provide substandard food or accommodations.

In response to such incidents, the province last year introduced a registration system that requires recovery houses that provide certain services, including housekeeping and medication support, to register with the province.

In return, facilities that register are eligible for a per diem payment of $30.90 per day, per client from the province.

Recovery homes had been registered under the former NDP government in the late 1990s. But some operators said the system was unwieldy and could force facilities out of operation. The Liberal government deregulated some levels of recovery homes – based on the type of services they provided – in 2002.

That deregulation left an opening for unscrupulous operators to rent or buy a home, advertise a recovery service and collect funds from vulnerable clients.

Municipalities can use bylaws and zoning restrictions to control the facilities, but when one is shut down, another may pop up to replace it.

Since the province introduced its registration system last spring, 55 supportive recovery houses have been registered. Another 45 have applied.

Meanwhile, there is a concern that the public may not realize that there are different types of facilities – and different regulatory requirements – for recovery homes.

"It is true that there are a proliferation of unregulated, unlicensed recovery homes out there," said Brenda Plant, executive director of Turning Point Recovery Society. "For those of us who are running legitimate, licensed facilities – it gives us a bad name."

Turning Point operates four homes and recently broke ground on a fifth in North Vancouver. All of its facilities are licensed under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, the same act that applies to seniors' residences and day cares.

In the meantime, most recovery houses offer fewer services and fall under a considerably less stringent regulatory regime.

Vancouver Eviction Services president Stephano Muzzatti says he regularly receives calls from property owners who want to evict someone who claimed to run a recovery house as a result of problems including unpaid rent or damage to property.

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