Letter from Huntsville mayor on Tyler Truitt

Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 10:38 PM CDT
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There is no community who loves and respects its veterans more than Huntsville, and we  sincerely appreciate your heartfelt interest in Mr. Truitt's situation.

Contrary to some of the public comments via  email and online, the source of Mr. Truitt's electricity (solar panels) is not an issue. No resident is required to buy electricity from Huntsville Utilities. Every property owner, however, is required to meet the building codes that are enforced across the city. The systems Mr. Truitt has attempted to put in do not meet these codes and his sanitary situation violates state health code. Mr. Truitt also did not apply for any building permits as required by law.

There is nothing illegal about living "off the grid," provided interested citizens go through proper channels. We encourage green environmental living, and our departments stand ready and willing to guide citizens through the appropriate permitting process. We have several residents in the City utilizing solar power and some are actually putting power back on the grid.

Please allow us the opportunity to provide additional information and background on the situation:

Mr. Truitt is a 28-year-old Redstone Arsenal employee. He and his girlfriend have been living in a mobile trailer on property he purchased near a large public park and the City's Natatorium. In the fall of 2014, the City received a complaint from a neighboring property owner about the conditions of Mr. Truitt's property and the presence of the trailer. After investigating the situation, it was determined the living conditions did not meet the City's codes and ordinances.

Since the initial investigation, the City has worked with Mr. Truitt on his desire for an alternative living environment and explained how to work through the permitting process to bring his property up to code. When Mr. Truitt did not comply, he received two citations. The first citation on March 27, 2015 was for failing to meet  zoning requirements – trailers are not allowed in the city limits unless they are located in a trailer park. Zoning Administration informed Mr. Truitt that he could apply to the Board of Zoning adjustment for a possible variance. He chose to go to municipal court and was found guilty of the violation on May 20, 2015. He appealed and has lost in court.

The second citation was issued May 12, 2015 by our Community Development Department for owning an unsafe structure (multiple code issues regarding safety, sanitation, sewer,  utilities  - Code #7-357 through 7-388 https://www.municode.com/library/al/huntsville/codes/code_of_ordinances). The violations were serious and the trailer was condemned. Mr. Truitt also lost this case in court.

The purpose behind these requirements is public safety. It is not to generate funds through permits – the cost is only about $11. The permitting process ensures 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 perceived by  ome 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 nearby. There are both benefits to be obtained, and compromises to be made, when people choose  to live in an urban community.

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 ensure 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 landlords 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.

Thank you for your willingness to speak up when you believed an injustice occurred, and we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to better explain the situation.

Office of the Mayor

City of Huntsville