Last week, Truth in Media reported on a dispute, originally covered by WAFF-TV, between Marine Corps veteran Tyler Truitt and the City of Huntsville, wherein city officials are trying to condemn Truitt’s off-the-grid home and drive him off his land. Truitt opted to provide power, water, and waste removal for his home that he shares with his girlfriend through renewable means like solar power, rainwater collection, and composting rather than by hooking up to city utilities, which city authorities say makes his property a danger to the public. Truitt says that he signed up for the military to fight for Americans’ freedoms but feels that, now that he is back on US soil, his own property rights are under threat.
Truitt, whose story has since garnered nationwide interest, provided a lengthy video, embedded above, answering questions and providing details related to his fight to keep living off-the-grid on his own property. Truth in Media went further and obtained an exclusive interview with him and asked some additional follow-up questions to shed light on the particulars of his struggle.
Truth in Media: “Describe in detail the incident in which the armed community relations officer came out to your property to issue the initial citation. Which citation or order was he issuing that day? How many officers were present? Did they send prior notification that they would be coming out that specific day and time? Have you considered filing a complaint or lawsuit pursuant to how the officers appeared on your property unannounced, in plain clothes, and brandishing weapons?”
Tyler Truitt: “Initially we were woken up by our dogs wanting to go outside, which is normal so I didn’t think anything of it until I opened the back door and they took off running and barking. As I chased after them I noticed two [plain clothes] men walking around the back of our house.
As I ran to grab my dogs and yelled at the men I noticed that one of them had a gun pointed at the dogs and then me as I came around the corner. The man with the gun, the CRO, was wearing cargo pants and a plain black jacket which covered his badge which was tucked away, not visible behind the jacket. I shouted at him, ‘What the f*** are you doing back here,’ to which he shouted back identifying himself as ‘the G*ddamn police.’ He then ordered me to take the dogs inside or he was going to ‘drop’ us. By this time, my girlfriend, Soraya, had come running out of the house, and he also was aiming the gun at her as she came out the door. I asked if they had a warrant and where his uniform was. He told me, matter-of-factly, that they didn’t need a warrant to come on my property and that he was a CRO, whatever that meant, and that he doesn’t have to wear a uniform. After a brief standoff which consisted of him waving the gun at all four of us and me holding back the two angry Dobermans ready to lunge at the man they rightfully perceived as a threat to their family, I dragged the concerned animals back into the house.
We were then detained outside in the front yard and presented with a pink citation from the other man, who was from zoning enforcement. The citation simply read, ‘parking a trailer in a restricted area.’ It all honestly seemed like a joke. All that trouble for them to issue what amounted to a parking ticket? I signed the ticket and asked them to please leave now, but they wouldn’t go. They continued to detain us outside, and the CRO told us that he is calling Community Development to come and condemn this house and that we would be leaving today. By that time, several more uniformed officers had arrived at the house and were standing around us. We waited for about half an hour or so detained outside in our pajamas and house shoes. They wouldn’t even let us go back inside to get a jacket. It was early April and still quite cold in the mornings. Finally the man from community development arrived. He didn’t seem to know what was going on. The CRO and man from zoning went off to talk with him privately while the other officers detained us. They obviously didn’t want us to hear whatever was being said. He then marched back to our house and placed a bright yellow paper on it which read, ‘This property has been condemned for unsafe conditions.’
I asked what unsafe conditions they were referring to, and he simply told me that we are not allowed to live without city utilities hooked up… As they were leaving, the CRO told us in a very demeaning manner that we had an hour to get out or else we would be arrested for ‘trespassing.’ We left for a short time to try and file an appeal which we were not allowed to file that day, then returned home. Unimpressed by their threats, we have remained here in defiance.
No notification was ever given that they would be coming here. I had previously spoken with the zoning department, so they had my phone number and mailing address. I clearly told them this was the best way to contact me if needed. I would have happily met with them, just as I have several times since then. On this day, the city, however, chose to endanger the safety of everyone involved with this stunt. Also, I have No Trespassing, Do Not Enter, and Beware of Dog signs at the entrance to my property. We have considered filing a complaint, but I know that this city wouldn’t do anything about it and would probably just tell them all ‘good job’ for harassing us.”
Truth in Media: “Do you have any ideas or theories as to how local codes officials came to target your property? Was there a complaint filed by anyone?”
Tyler Truitt: “They will not tell us who, if anyone, complained. As I have no proof or evidence at this time, I wouldn’t want to speculate. I have however spoken with most of my closest neighbors on the street and I don’t believe it was any of them. They mostly seem to be supportive of our fight with the city.”
Truth in Media: “When you first purchased the property, what steps did you take to see if you were complying with codes? Do you think it would have been possible for you to know in advance of purchasing your property that the city might interpret your plan for your home as being in violation of codes?”
Tyler Truitt: “Before buying the property I read the city zoning ordinance section for Residential 2B, which my property is zoned. It doesn’t say anything about mobile homes or trailers, and my use as a single family dwelling is consistent with the zoning. Also the lady I bought the property from told me she was also planning to put a mobile home here, and the dirt pad she had placed near the front of the property seemed to confirm this. As it turns out however, the permit she had previously obtained from the city was for a modular home, not a manufactured home. I was unaware that there was any distinction between the two. When I asked the city what the difference was, they basically told me that the only difference is a sticker and how they label it. The ordinance which prohibits ‘trailers’ inside the city is listed in the miscellaneous section of the zoning code. Therefore it applies equally to all zones. Also, you would have to read over 400 pages of codes to even get to that section.
This brings me to a related point. I didn’t consider it at the time I bought the property, but why had the previous owner gone through so much trouble to prepare the site for a house and then abandoned the building plans? What I’ve now come to find out is that, despite obtaining a building permit, the city kept hassling her about all these different things in order to make it difficult for anyone to build on that property, and she eventually just took a loss by selling it. So why is the city going to such trouble to prevent anyone from building on this previously undeveloped property? Are they planning to acquire this and the surrounding undeveloped properties?”
Truth in Media: “What attracted you to sustainable, off-the-grid living?”
Tyler Truitt: “My ultimate dream was to have a home that was completely paid for and debt free. I can’t stand the idea of going to work every day just to pay bills, barely making ends meet and never getting ahead. I knew I would need to eliminate debt and minimize my bills. I bought the property, which I felt like I got a very good deal on, in cash. Then began shopping for a house to go out here. With my remaining budget, a manufactured home was really the only option. Setting up off grid amenities was the next logical step to minimizing my bills. Since utilities have never been run to this property, having them set up with power poles, pipes, etc. would have cost just as much as my initial investment into sustainable energy and resources. Plus, I now have no recurring bills and I don’t have to worry about my power going out if their grid goes down. Also, there is the environmental aspect. It feels good knowing that our lifestyle doesn’t create a negative impact on the earth. It’s amazing to think we are basically living off of free energy that is just given to us every day by the sun. Knowing that we are taking control of our own lives back into our hands and away from government bureaucrats and corporations is also a huge aspect to this type of lifestyle. It really is the next level of personal freedom.”
Truth in Media: “What made you choose to buy the property in question and, in particular, why did you originally choose to live in Huntsville?”
Tyler Truitt: “Before I joined the Marine Corps, I spent a year at UAH. I really liked the school and how involved the whole Huntsville community is in NASA and aerospace research. We have a lot of diversity here, and I knew when I was in California that this was the only place in Alabama I wanted to come back to. I was looking for a tech job and was fortunate enough to find a position on Redstone Arsenal fixing electronics for the Army. The property I found was close to work for me, but also gave us some of the privacy and seclusion of being outside the city. We are located on the end of a dead end road and my lot is surrounded by trees on all sides. When you are back there you can’t see anything from the street. The property had never been developed before and had to be bush-hogged for me to even walk on it. For people who think we are somehow hurting the property value, how is my house possibly any worse than a grown up, empty lot full of weeds?”
Truth in Media: “Your home is being characterized by the City of Huntsville as a trailer. What type of structure is it specifically?”
Tyler Truitt: “Our house is defined under state and federal law as a manufactured home, or what most people call a ‘mobile’ home. Although the city refers to it as a trailer, that term is really inaccurate. If you go and look for the legal definition of the term ‘trailer,’ the only place you will likely find one, or that I have found, is in the motor vehicle section of state code. Alabama code defines trailer as just how you would think of a trailer. A vehicle which can be drawn behind another vehicle and is primarily designed for transporting persons or property on the highway. I would argue that our house is not designed for transporting anything. It is a house, primarily designed for being lived in, while being left in a semi-permanent location for long periods of time. A long time ago, mobile homes were much smaller and easier to transport behind a family vehicle, much like a camper trailer or RV today. Hence the colloquial term trailer, which they are still often referred to as. Modern manufactured homes have advanced a long way from those days, and the term trailer is no longer practical to use in a legal sense. So, when the city ordinance says no trailers shall be parked within city limits, what does that mean? Does that mean no boat trailers, utility trailers, or tractor trailers? Surely those fit the definition of trailer much more closely than our home does.”
Truth in Media: “If you were to move the building structure to another location, what would be involved in preparing the building to be physically moved?”
Tyler Truitt: “Well first of all it would have to have axles and wheels attached to it, which furthers my understanding that it is not a trailer at all, but a house.”
Truth in Media: “Is your home visible from the street or from any adjacent neighbors’ property?”
Tyler Truitt: “Our home is not visible from the street and is only slightly visible from the adjacent property during wintertime when surrounding vegetation is less dense.”
Truth in Media: “What is the next step for your case, hearing-wise, when will it be taking place, and what contingencies are you considering if the outcome does not work out in your favor?”
Tyler Truitt: “My next court appearance is at the municipal court for the so called ‘unsafe housing’ violations. This trial date is set for July 29. I am also awaiting a response to our appeal to the previous court case for the zoning violation. I have requested a trial de novo in the circuit court for that case and reserved my right to a jury trial. We still have not gotten a court date. If I do not receive a favorable outcome at the upcoming municipal trial, I will appeal that case to the circuit court for jury trial also.”
Truth in Media: “Are you currently at risk of being evicted from your property or arrested? If not, how long are you allowed to stay before the sanctions against you begin to escalate? If you are not successful in your legal challenge, do you intend to try and stay on the property anyway?”
Tyler Truitt: “At this point I don’t think there is a whole lot they can do to me as we are still awaiting a legal outcome for all of their allegations. Technically, I suppose they could arrest us for staying here, but I don’t believe they would have anything to charge us with or hold us on. Also, with all the support we are getting from the surrounding community since this story broke, I’m sure there would be a tremendous public outcry and backlash if they were to make a move to remove us physically before we are allowed for our due process of law to play out. I plan to stay here as long as possible. I do have contingency plans if we are unsuccessful in this phase, but I can’t afford to give all my moves away to the city before they have been played. I’m sure they will be reading this.”
Truth in Media: “If the City of Huntsville succeeds in rendering your property legally uninhabitable, what options are available to you? Where would you live? What steps could you take to recover your financial losses in choosing to buy that property?”
Tyler Truitt: “First of all, I never gamble anything I can’t afford to lose. If somehow the city is ultimately victorious, that would just put me back to where I was before I had this place. However, I think that is an unlikely scenario. As stated previously, I plan to stay here as long as possible in civil disobedience until they physically remove us and even then I will come back. If they keep me from coming back here, then maybe I will just go put up a tent on the mayor’s front lawn.”
Truth in Media: “How does it make you feel to have to fight to live on your own property after signing up to fight for Americans’ freedoms?”
Tyler Truitt: “It’s certainly frustrating, but not surprising. My oath was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States (and the freedom that represents), from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. What I have come to realize in the last few years is that the biggest threat is a domestic one. We are in danger of having our liberties taken away by the very governments which are sworn to protect us. To me, the responsibilities that oath entails will follow me until I die. Just because I’m no longer on some sandy battlefield far from home doesn’t mean my responsibility to keep fighting and standing up for what I believe in goes away. Our city officials need to realize this too.”
Truth in Media: “What have you been telling your supporters to do to help you in your quest to keep your home?”
Tyler Truitt: “The biggest thing I believe people can do to help right now is to call the city officials and local government representatives and tell them that affordable housing and self-sustained living are not a crime. We have to let our officials know they will be held accountable to the people for their actions.”
Truitt provided contact information for city officials relevant to his case:
- Mayor Tommy Battle: (256) 427-5000
- Judge Sonny Rodenhauser: (256) 427-7810
- City attorney Peter Joffrion: (256) 427-5026
- City administrator: (256) 427-5009
- Community development director Ken Benion: (256) 427-5400
- Zoning administrator Jim McGuffey: (256) 564-8008
- City council member Richard Showers Sr.: Richard.email@example.com
- City council president Mark Russell: Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org
- City council member Jennie Robinson: Jennie.email@example.com
- City council member Bill Kling Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org
- City council member Will Culver: Will.email@example.com