The board of health following at last week’s forum on sober houses has a lot of questions and few answers. It’s not surprising. No one else does at this point. Probably no one came away from that meeting with any solid answers for how to deal with unmanaged sober houses.

The board understood why, though. Legal protections make it very difficult to get a handle on knowing how sober houses are run and how many people live in them, never mind identifying them.

The health agent knows that the bylaw allows only four unrelated people living in a house and no more than two to a bedroom if it is smaller than 200 square feet. But he can’t tell from the outside of the house if residents are complying with the bylaw and he can’t just march in and check, not without a warrant. There are civil liberties to consider.

It’s not like the old days.

Noisy group houses in the summer were a big problem in 1964, and the town took steps to control “summer rowdyism.” The board of health decided to require owners or agents of houses offered for seasonal rent to register their properties and post outside the house the occupancy limit imposed by the board. Further, nonresident summer workers were required to be registered and fingerprinted.

That summer, 802 people went to the police station, filled out detailed personal history forms and received an identity card. And 643 rental house owners registered.

Selectmen that fall agreed that it helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

The board of health couldn’t possibly do that today. Today we have HIPPA and the ADA. But even if it could employ such methods, it probably wouldn’t help much. It didn’t back then and it wouldn’t today.

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