Do you or are you planning on going “off the grid”?
According to Wikipedia, off-the-grid homes are autonomous; they do not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid, or similar utility services. A true off-grid house is able to operate completely independently of all traditional public utility services.
A woman in Florida is trying to, but the city and court simply will not let her.
Robin Speronis, a widow and former real estate agent, has been fighting the city of Cape Coral since November when a code enforcement officer tried to evict her from her home for living without utilities.
Speronis had disconnected all the utilities from her modest home in Cape Coral for an experiment in off-the-grid living some time ago. City officials ignored her activities until she went public and discussed them with Liza Fernandez, a reporter for a local TV station. A code enforcement officer designated Speronis’s home as uninhabitable and gave her an eviction notice a day after the piece aired.
The city contends that Speronis violated the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.
The International Property Maintenance Code is used in communities throughout the United States and Canada. The code states that properties are unsafe to live in if they do not have electricity and running water. Speronis has electricity from solar panels, and water by collecting rainwater.
On Feb. 20, 2014, a judge in Cape Coral, Florida, ruled that living off the grid is illegal. Special Magistrate Harold S. Eskin ruled that:
- Speronis is not guilty of violating city codes requiring a proper electrical and sewer system.
- However, she is still required to hook her home to the city’s water system.
- Speronis’ alternative source of power also must be approved by the city.
Note: A “special magistrate” is a person appointed by the Value Adjustment Board to hear appeals concerning values, classified uses and exemptions, and to render findings of fact based on the law.
Speronis told WFTX and The News-Press, “That doesn’t make common sense. Why would I hook, hook up to the city water and then not use it?”
“It was a mental fistfight,” Speronis’ attorney Todd Allen, who took her case as a pro bono, said of Eskin’s review of his clients’ case. “There’s an inherent conflict in the code.” Part of the conflict is that Speronis must hook up to the water system, although officials acknowledge she does not have to use it.
Eskin spent several hours reviewing the case and admitted that the code might be obsolete, the local Press-News newspaper reported. He said, “Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand … given societal and technical changes (that) requires review of code ordinances.” And yet, Eskin enforced a code that he himself admits is obsolete.
Eskin ruled that some of the charges against Speronis were unfounded and that Cape Coral’s city government had overstepped its authority and may have violated due process procedures because she was not given proper notice of violations.
Speronis now has two choices:
- Either restore her hookup to the water system by the end of March; or
- Appeal Eskin’s ruling to the courts.
It is not known what action the city will take but city officials did say that they would be willing to let Speronis stay in her home if conditions are “sanitary.” However, Eskin had noted at the hearing that city officials have not actually been in Speronis’s home to make that determination.
Mere days after the court ruling, the City of Cape Coral capped her access to the sewer system so she can no longer use it — a move that Speronis condemned as “pure evil.”
But the city says Speronis admitted in her testimony at the hearing that she had been using the sewer system for the past year but refuses to pay for the service, thereby amassing a past due bill in the thousands. Connie Barron, Cape Coral spokesperson told The News-Press, “She also gave clear indications she does not intend to pay for this service but intends to continue to use the system. We really had no choice but to cap the sewer.”
Seems to me Speronis cannot have it both ways. She insists she be allowed to live off-the-grid but uses the sewer system, which is a public utility, for which she should pay like any other homeowner.
Speronis also has other legal issues. As reported by the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, in June 2011, she plead no content to larceny, and was sentenced to 10 years of state probation and ordered to pay $32,000 in restitution. In January 2012, she had her real estate license revoked following a second complaint that she had not returned a $3,500 deposit following a failed condo sale.
H/t FOTM’s swampygirl