Green living and sustainable energy are encouraged in Huntsville, Alabama, just as long as you do not practice such an off-grid life within the city limits.
Marine veteran Tyler Truitt discovered that the hard way when the city condemned his off-grid retreat because he chose not to use city utilities – and a judge subsequently upheld the city’s decision.
This year he installed solar panels in the front yard, a composting toilet in the trailer, and placed a 550-gallon plastic tank outside his trailer home to catch rainwater. But the city said he can’t live that way, and it has placed a yellow “unsafe building” sticker on the outside of the trailer.
The home sits on two acres of land at the end of a road.
A municipal judge found Truitt guilty of zoning violations, although he has appealed to the Circuit Court and wants a jury trial. The case has similarities to the one involving Robin Speronis, the Florida woman whose city told her she couldn’t live off grid.
“They’re taking a big option away from families that can’t afford to build a fancy house,” Truitt said of Huntsville’s Community Development Department. Huntsville’s Code of Ordinances also bans mobile homes outside of trailer parks.
“I have looked and didn’t see anything (in Huntsville’s Code of Ordinances) which says I’m not allowed to use off-grid utilities,” Truitt told Al.com, which broke the story. “They claim that it’s not sufficient to use off-grid utilities because it’s not a ‘permanent’ source of power.”
Truitt, 27, served in the Marines before working at Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Huntsville.
Off-Grid Living a Threat to Public Safety?
The city gave Truitt until June 1 to bring the trailer up to code, but he and his girlfriend aren’t moving, and he’s chosen to take the city to court.
City officials defended the actions.
“The purpose behind these requirements is public safety,” Kelly Schrimsher, the communications director for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, told Al.com. “This includes ensuring that occupants of a residential dwelling have safe, potable, running water and electricity, particularly in the wintertime. The city has posted the property as ‘Unsafe’ for this reason.”
The city of Huntsville owns Huntsville Utilities.
“We encourage green environmental living, and we request interested citizens go through proper channels,” Schrimsher said. “Our departments stand ready and willing to guide them through the appropriate permitting process.”
‘We’re Not Bothering Anyone’
Truitt’s real crime may be choosing to live within the city limits, Huntsville Community Development Director Ken Benion said. Benion told Al.com that Truitt’s home likely would be permissible in rural areas in the county.
“But in the city, it just doesn’t fly,” Benion said.
Truitt isn’t giving up.
“We’re not bothering anyone,” Truitt said. “I just wanted to have something that would be debt-free, so that if I chose to go to school full-time I wouldn’t have to worry about any bills.”
The couple uses a propane water heater and cooks on a propane grill and in the microwave, the website reported.
Truitt believes it’s a matter of civil disobedience to stay in the trailer.
“Would the city rather us be homeless than live in a house that they don’t like?” Truitt asked. “At what point is someone going to stand up and say, ‘This doesn’t make any sense, this is wrong.’”