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Huntsville responds: Living off-the-grid in the city limits is an unsafe ‘alternative lifestyle’

Tyler Truitt, military veteran living "off the grid" in Huntsville (Image: Free Thought Project)
Tyler Truitt, military veteran living “off the grid” in Huntsville (Image: Free Thought Project)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — As the public outcry over the city of Huntsville’s targeting of a military veteran for living “off the grid” intensified Monday, the city issued a response to Yellowhammer News, clarifying some of the actions they have taken and asserting the necessity of improving his “unsafe living conditions.”

Kelly Schrimsher, communications director for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, explained there is currently no lawsuit or eviction notice pending against Tyler Truitt, who lives inside the city limits but is not connected to city services. Truitt sustains himself off of the two acres of land he owns, generates his own power from solar panels and gathers his own water.

However, the city says Truitt’s “alternative lifestyle” and the “unsafe structure” on his property are issues of “public safety” and must be dealt with accordingly.

Here is a lengthy excerpt from the email Kelly Schrimsher sent Yellowhammer Monday afternoon:

The City of Huntsville has been working with Mr. Truitt and his alternative lifestyle choices for the past nine months. Mr. Truitt has now been issued two citations. The first citation on March 27 was for failing to meet zoning requirements – trailers are not allowed in the city limits. Zoning Administration informed Mr. Truitt that he could apply to the Board of Zoning adjustment for a variance. He chose to go to court and was found guilty on May 20. Mr. Truitt is appealing that conviction and his next court date will be July 29.

The second citation was issued May 12 by our Community Development Department for owning an unsafe structure (multiple code issues regarding safety, sanitation, sewer, utilities – Code #7-357 through 7-388).

As you are aware, the purpose behind these requirements is public safety. This includes ensuring that occupants of a residential dwelling have safe, potable, running water, and electricity, particularly in the wintertime. These are public safety regulations, regardless of how (they are) perceived by some members of the public. The City has posted the property as “Unsafe” for this reason. The absence of a connection to a sanitary sewer system (whether a septic system or sanitary sewer outfall line connected, ultimately, to a treatment facility, is not only a health and safety issue for the occupants, it’s a health and safety issue for others who may live around him/her. There are both benefits to be obtained, and compromises to be made, when people choose to live in an urban community.

Contrary to some of the public comments online, it’s not a revenue issue for Huntsville Utilities or the City. Community Development’s mission is, among other things, protection of the public health. We have had many problems in the past with landlords who have taken advantage of poor tenants by refusing to insure the availability of such basic utility services – people who have lived in houses or apartments with no running water, no heat, no electricity, no proper connection to sanitary sewer facilities. We have used this regulatory tool to force these slum lords to bring their properties up to code (when we become aware of the violations), so that their tenants can be assured of having the basic services required for survival – services most of us all take for granted.

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