Over the last several decades, more and more people have made the conscious choice to return to those more basic ways of living off the land. For some the reasons are financial, fear driven, or born of a desire to eat healthier and to know what is in their food or to leave less of a negative impact on the planet. For others it’s a need to be prepared for what is coming, or perhaps just the desire to get out of the chaos of a 9 to 5 race to keep up with the Jones’ and return to a more relaxed, peaceful, and natural lifestyle.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process for any citizens prior to the federal government being able to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property. The 14th amendment later extended this to require due process for citizens from the state government as well. But it seems that regardless of your reason for wanting it, there is still some controversy over the legality off-grid living practices.
The news has been increasingly spattered with reports of U.S. citizens, being fined, jailed, arrested, and otherwise harassed by government officials for attempting to farm, homestead, or live off-grid. To anyone who is paying attention, it seems life, liberty, and especially property is in jeopardy for those citizens who choose a more self-sufficient and less government dependent lifestyle.
Raw milk sales are illegal in Nevada, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, and Iowa. Raw milk can only be sold as pet food in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. According to Peter Kraska, criminal justice professor, at Kentucky University, “No-knock” warrants have increased from around 2,000-3,000 annually in the 1980’s to more than 70,000 annually. Everyday citizens are being fined, jailed, or harassed for collecting rainwater, for owning chickens, or for using solar power and composting toilets.
Here are just a few examples of actual court battles that have occurred:
Randy & Libby Buchler, of Shady Grove Farm U.P. located in the tow of Gwinn, Marquette County of Michigan state. In August of 2009, Forsyth Township sent a “Notice of Violation” stating that their agricultural activity (garden, chickens, and a new flock of sheep) was in violation of zoning and asking them to cease and desist.
It seems that agriculture is not “a permissible or conditional use” within the “Lake Residential District” even though they owned 6.5 acres at the time. It took 39 months, establishing status as an Environmentally Verified Farm, and the help of The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, for the Buchlers to emerge victorious. They kept their farm and are continuing fight towards Food Freedom.
Robin Speronis, Cape Coral City, Florida. Cited by the city for use of rainwater, solar power, and the fact that she was not connected to a sewer system. The magistrate found her not guilty on 2 of the 3 charges, even though the city went to great lengths to come up with a charge that would stick. Speronis was finally found guilty of not being connected to an approved water supply as detailed in the International Plumbing code. She will have to connect to the system or try to appeal.
Tyler Truitt, of Huntsville, Alabama is a former marine living on his own land. He moved to Huntsville from California, bought 2 acres of land and put the trailer on it. But he then discovered that because of an ordinance banning trailers within the city limits, he could not hook up to city utility services.
Not to be deterred, Truitt installed solar panels for electricity and a rain water catchment system and decided to live off the grid. Huntsville city issued Truitt a citation for parking his trailer in a restricted area, violating zoning laws. The house was later condemned for unsafe living, declared structurally unsound and Truitt and his girlfriend were told they could be arrested for trespassing if they continued to live there. The case went to court, Truitt lost because the ban on trailers was in place before he bought the property and put the trailer there. He intends to appeal.
The Garden of Eden, an organic farm community owned by Shellie Smith and located in Arlington, Texas. This small community on private property, was subjected to a massive armed “no knock” SWAT raid that included helicopter surveillance. The police claim they held residents at gunpoint for at 30 minutes but Ms. Smith states she was handcuffed for 2 hours and kept at gunpoint for a total of ten hours.
No marijuana plants were discovered. Most evidence used to obtain the warrant was based on one prior arrest for marijuana and what one agent “knew”, the actual copy of the warrant is here if you want to read it for yourself.
An aerial searcher who claims 17 years of experience said he spotted a large area of marijuana from his helicopter. Those plants were actually tomatillo plants! The police did haul off the tomatillo plants and other plants, as well as an apparently offensive array of café benches residents used for seating around the campfire. It all started with neighbor complaints and a minor arrest for marijuana.
Christopher and Antonia Hernandez lived a nightmare that began May 19, 2015 when their children were taken by Otsego sheriff deputies and a Child Protective Services agent. The Hernandez family were accused of being squatters, a fact they disproved within 24 hours.
Here are the facts:
- The family had a generator on site and had bought a pass to use shower facilities at a nearby state park.
- Police showed up just nine days after they started to camp.
- The Hernandez family was given no option to return to their home with the children until the court date.
The parents won a court ruling because Antonia and the children could enroll as part of the Tlingit Native American tribe. Luckily for the Hernandez family, Michigan has a state law related to the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act that protects families of Native American descent from separation.
The children were reunited with their parents after 21 days. Because of what they have endured, the Hernandez family has given up their 10-acre property and their off-grid lifestyle.
Gary Harrington, Eagle Point Oregon. In Oregon, state water laws claim that all surface water in the state, is public water and therefore the property of the State of Oregon. Gary Harrington applied for and was granted permits to build 3 water reservoirs on his more than 100-acre property. He wanted the reservoir water available to use for fire suppression to protect his property. He stocked the reservoirs with fish and used them recreationally as well.
His 3 reservoirs held 13 million gallons of water which the government claims are excessive and alleges had to have been illegally diverted from the nearby river. 13 million does seem like a lot! But when you do the math, just 1 inch of rain falling on 1 acre of ground is approximately 27,154 gallons of water. So multiply that 1 inch of rain by over 100 acres and you get well over 2 million gallons with just 1 inch of rainfall. Add to that just 1 inch of very wet snow over 1 acre produces about 5,400 gallons of water. Or just over half a million gallons over 100 acres.
But Oregon State claims all surface water is publicly owned and therefore property of the state. How long will it be before they claim sunlight and air are also publicly owned and belong to the state? Would breathing, diverting air into your lungs, then require a permit from the State of Oregon?
Now before you think that this is exaggerated or that it only applies to those in the United States, you should know that Spain announced a tax in 2013 on anyone who is connected to the grid and using PV for their own consumption. This is being called “a sun tax” and essentially means they attempting to tax grid connected homes that generate electricity from the sun for their own use. There are some exemptions for solar systems up to 100kw so do your research.
Spain is currently 4th in solar energy production, they aren’t against solar power, they simply want to maintain the current oligopolistic model, controlled and unchallenged, which makes it easier to keep consumers at their mercy. Anyone with solar panels will be required to be hooked into the grid or be fined up to 30 million euros.
The Industry, Energy and Tourism Ministry in Spain has also drafted a decree that will levy a fee on people who use batteries or other systems to store electricity once they are hooked into the national power grid. If this goes into effect, the use of products such as Tesla’s Powerwall battery or any battery storage of power residents produce on their own, would be penalized.
So What Can You Do?
- Be prepared for things to get worse. Stockpile supplies, get out of debt, and become as self-sufficient as you possibly can.
- Recognize that most of the above issues originated through complaints to local authorities from neighbors. Choose a living area that either has no neighbors at all or has neighbors who are like-minded, living off-grid, or farming. If you must have neighbors, do your best to stay on their good side and avoid complaints.
- Know the local zoning rules and regulations for your area before you buy property! In most of the cases above, the problem was with local government—the city, the township, the county. Because of the 5th and 14th Amendments, there may be State or Federal laws that can help you win the battle because they take precedence over local governments.
- Educate local officials, invite them to your farm and show them exactly how you care for your animals, give them something from your garden to try, etc. The official will have first-hand knowledge of what happens at your farm and can maybe stop any future complaint in its tracks—before it turns into a court battle!
- Do you know your rights? If you are issued a citation, will you know without a doubt if your constitutional rights are being violated? When was the last time you read the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents?
- Read the The Nationalization of the Bill of Rights: An Overview by Richard C. Cortner, University of Arizona.
- Learn more about the Right to Farm Statutes that have been enacted in every state in the United States. Know how this applies or doesn’t apply to your situation.
- Review the International Property Maintenance Code or the International Zoning Code for yourself. Please note the Scope and Administration sections of both these codes was simply blank. Yet this is what local municipalities tried to use to evict Robin Speronis from her home in Florida!
- Know what the water rights laws are in your state BEFORE you buy property. For a comprehensive review of water laws in different states and at the federal level, visit the National Agricultural Law Center.
- Learn more about alternative energy laws and regulations as well as any rebates, tax credits, and incentives by visiting the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)
There are so many benefits to living off-grid and using alternative methods such as solar, wind, or water to generate electricity. It’s crucial in this time and in the future that you know and understand the laws for your area so that you can avoid conflicts but also defend your rights if one occurs. The old saying “if you give an inch, they will take a mile” rings true for government. Pay attention to what rules and laws are being put in place locally and take action against those you believe are in violation of your rights.