As the world moves towards solar panels, wind power and naturally cooled homes, off the grid living is becoming a viable reality for those willing to make the investment. But unplugging from municipal services means that those who still have use of them would need to pay more, given the costs would be spread less evenly.
This issue, while new, was no doubt on the mind of a Florida magistrate who ruled it illegal to unplug from the municipality of Cape Coral.
Special Magistrate Harold S. Eskin ruled that Robin Speronis is not permitted to live on her own private property without being hooked into the city’s water system.
He also ruled that while she had the right to live without utility power, all of her alternative power sources must first be approved by the city.
Speronis has been battling the city of Cape Coral for years, as back in November of 2013 a code enforcement officer actually attempted to evict her for “living without utilities.”
The city argues that the International Property Maintenance Code was “violated” because she chose to rely on rain water rather than paying the city for water. The IPMC also makes it a crime for her to use solar panels instead of being tied into the electric grid.
“It was a mental fistfight,” said Todd Allen, Speronis’ attorney. “There’s an inherent conflict in the code.”
Allen says that the ruling means Speronis must “hook up” to the grid, even if she doesn't use utilities from it.
While Speronis has won on two of three counts already, there is still a big fight looming ahead of her.
“But what happens in the courtroom is much less important than touching people’s hearts and minds,” she explained.
“I think that we are continuing to be successful in doing just that and I am so pleased — there is hope! The next morning, as I took my two hour walk, there was a young man unknown to me, who drove by me, tooted his horn and said, ‘Robin, congratulations on your victory yesterday, keep up the fight and God bless you.’ That is beautiful.”
A local newspaper reported that Magistrate Eskin “admitted that the code might be obsolete.”
“Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand given societal and technical changes that requires review of code ordinances,” Eskin told the paper.
Eskin cited his obligation to enforce the code yet acknowledged that some of the charges against her are unfounded.
“I am in compliance,” Speronis said in an interview. “I’m in compliance of living… you may have to hook-up, but you don’t have to use it. Well, what’s the point?”
Speronis has been living “off the grid” for some time and it was only after she publicly discussed her home with Liza Fernandez, a local news reporter, that the city started to give her trouble. After the appearance, a code enforcement officer deemed her home as “uninhabitable” and served her an eviction notice.
“We will continue to use due process and legal measures available to enforce the codes of the city,” Connie Barron, spokeswoman for the city of Cape Coral said. “The building official has pulled the certificate of occupancy… this was the next step we decided to take to bring the property into compliance. Legally, she cannot be in the house.”
Barron fully admits that it is “unusual for the city to escalate a case to this level.”
“Even if they board the house up, I’m not leaving,” Speronis explained. “They did the best they could when they took my dogs and arrested me. It fell apart because I’m unshakable.”
Many people do not realize that the International Property Maintenance Code is still used by cities throughout the United States and Canada. It holds that even if you have power and running water, you can be evicted from your home if you remain “off the grid.”