Florida City Threatens Woman For Living Off the Grid

Solar panelsOregon Department of TransportationBy all accounts, Robin Speronis is engaged in a successful experiment in "living off the grid" in Cape Coral, Florida. The 54-year-old former real estate agent disconnected from city water and power about a year and a half ago. Now she relies on solar panels, propane lanterns, and collected rain water in her duplex and seems quite happy about it. But the city clearly is not. Officials tried to boot her from her home, and have now given her until the end of March to reconnect to the grid. A special magistrate who tossed many of the charges and admits that reasonableness may not play a role in the rules says she will ultimately have to comply. Speronis is standing firm.

According to Cristela Guerra of the Cape Coral News Press:

It took several hours to review the litany of alleged code enforcement violations. It was noted some seemed redundant, while other violations were not addressed as a result of issues with due process. [Special Magistrate Harold S.] Eskin had concerns that Speronis had not received proper notice. He found her not guilty on those issues but said he would be open to considering new evidence.

He found her guilty of the section which dealt with the water system and maintenance. Alternative means of power are possible but need to be approved by city officials, according to Paul Dickson, the city building official. When it comes to water, the options included installing a potentially more complicated and expensive system that would filter rain water through the pipes while maintaining temperatures and pressure. Speronis also uses the city sewer system for drainage. There are liens on the home to collect those fees.

Daniel Jennings of Off the Grid News notes that "Speronis 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. 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 specific code on which they "got" Speronis is clearly designed to discourage well use within city limits. The code states, "Where an existing, adequate municipal water system is available in a public right-of-way or easement abutting the property, or within 200 feet of the property being served by a well system, connections shall be made so that the well shall no longer be used for human consumption."

But Speronis's water doesn't come from a well—it falls from the sky. Nevermind. As Eskin noted, "Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand." He recommended review and revision of the ordinances, but insisted he had to find against Speronis "whether I want to or not."

City officials concede the code doesn't require anybody to use the hook-up to the water system, but they have to connect, just because.

"You may have to hook-up, but you don’t have to use it. Well, what’s the point?" notes Speronis, who says she'll keep fighting.

The entire point seems to be to discourage an interesting lifestyle that's independent of city systems.

This isn't just a local problem. Jennings notes that Cape Coral's code is based on the one-size-fits-all International Property Maintenance Code, which is causing hassles in many places. I personally know the owner of a very nice hay bale bed and breakfast in...an undisclosed location...who captures rainwater and quietly uses it to flush toilets and for other quite sensible purposes that aren't permitted by code. Why she's not permitted to capture and use rainwater in a drought-stricken region is anybody's guess.

Though, as noted above, "Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand."

Restrictive, mindless, rules like those with which Speronis is threatened are a menace to both independence and innovation. But that's how government officials roll.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The first thing you do when going off the grid is a lot of interviews.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I think they're missusing the term going off the grid.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I supposed we can't really copywrite it though:)

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    As RC Dean would say: That which is not permitted is forbidden.

  • SIV||

    The city sewer isn't part of "the grid"?

  • KDN||

    This was my thought, too. She's not getting her water from them, but where's she sending the drainage?

  • GW||

    Yeah, if she's flushing toilets and sending water down the drain, she *is* using a city utility. Granted, the rules are still stupid, but it's all but impossible to live "off the grid" these days. Ditto for the propane lantern. Hardly off the grid. All of the "off grid" homes that I'm familiar with in my area have propane fueled backup generators.

    Who are these people kidding?

  • Tonio||

    I'm interpreting the propane lantern to be one which she runs either off the 1# pony bottles, or a 20# grill bottle. That is different from being connected to a natural gas utility.

    But, yes, you are right about the sewer service. But in her defense it's probably impermissible for her to have an outhouse within city limits.

    Rather than deride her for lack of purity, which is an unfortunate tendency among libertarians, I salute her for her independence.

  • GW||

    Not really. The propane is delivered by a truck instead of through a pipe. It would be like living your life off batteries you purchase at the store instead of having electricity. Obviously that's stupid, but from an energy standpoint, it's the same thing. To me, off grid means some man modified energy never crosses your property line. Because if you're depending on propane, you're depending on infrastructure to refine it and deliver it.

    And yes, I agree, I admire her for wanting to do what she's done, and the city needs to piss off....except for the sewer, which makes for an interesting dilemma since sewer is charged according to your water use. So even if they force her to connect for water service, if she doesn't use any city water, they don't have a way to charge her for sewer.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I always considered "off grid" in reference to utilities, to mean not being connected to a utility company's system. It doesn't mean, to me, not purchasing commodities on demand from anywhere. I also consider the existence of road right of ways, but not the maintenance of them, to be part of natural/common law property rights- the same principle that says if you sell part of your backyard to someone else, an easement across your property for access on to and off of the property you sold is implied, unless the terms of the sale stated otherwise.

  • GW||

    Maybe, but most people I come in contact with are attracted to the "off grid living" concept because the implication is that it's essentially self sustaining. That you don't need the utility infrastructure.

    But the reality is that if you're using propane, you're just relying on a different infrastructure than the one that supplies natural gas (or even electricity, for that matter). It's not at all sustainable because you're still relying on a fossil fuel, and someone else still has to process it, refine it, and ship it to you.

    Simple test: if you couldn't get propane for a month, how would that affect your "off grid" lifestyle? You'd be screwed, that's where you'd be.

    Truly off grid would be using solar, wind, and maybe firewood cut from your own land for heat. And that would be tough.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I know a guy who handles accounts for a propane company. He sends out boom trucks to pick up tanks from restaurants that don't pay their bills- and its usually restaurants that get behind. They don't even handle residential clients because there's too many deadbeats.

    Anyway, at least with propane companies, there's usually more than one to choose from, unlike being connected to the electric, water, or natural gas lines. So I just thought of off grid being a buzz word for "Fuck the electric company!", not "I'm totally self sustaining."

  • Ken Shultz||

    I know people who've bought a bunch of land and live off the grid way out there...

    Their kick is usually to live as inexpensively as possible and as far away from other people as possible.

    Propane suits both purposes well. It's cheap, and you don't need to be hooked up to city utilities to use it, so you can use it way out there in the middle of nowhere.

    Propane is popular even with people who are using solar. The amount of solar panels and batteries required to keep a refrigerator/freezer going is extremely expensive. Propane refrigerators make a ton of sense that way.

    So, anyway, the off the grid people I've known are often very environmentally minded, but we're generally not talking about your yuppie global warming obsessed environmentalist, here. These are people who shoot, freeze, and eat bunny rabbits.

    They want to live cheap and away from everybody. Their carbon footprint is a lot smaller than ours is, even with the propane. But what they're doing isn't just about CO2.

  • Tonio||

    ^This.

    Also, with onsite storage you are immune from grid failure and utility-initiated service cutoffs.

    It's important to differentiate between off-grid energy and energy independence.

  • GW||

    It's all semantics. You're getting your energy from a company that operates in a market with competition, as opposed to one that has a government enforced monopoly...which especially for natural gas utilities, isn't as bad as you think, because they're in competition with the electric utility.

    And as many people on propane have figured out this year, that shit this winter was WAY expensive compared to natural gas. Even when propane has been cheap, natural gas, even from a monopoly supplier, has been cheaper.

    You're not off grid, you're just part of a different grid, with different market dynamics. Seeing the people here who have built "off grid" homes, they're generally wealthy liberals who want to "save the environment" and shit like that, and are willing to spend cubic dollars for systems that have a financial payback that extends out to decades. It's all for show, basically....that's why they've all got backup generators. When mother nature doesn't cooperate, they don't want to be inconvenienced.

    I'm all for telling the electric company to fuck off. The biggest hypocrites when it comes to this are people in net zero energy homes. They're not screwing the electric company (in fact, they NEED the electric company), they're screwing their neighbors, who are subsidizing their utility use.

  • JWatts||

    "It's all semantics"

    No, it's not. Off-grid =/= Energy Independence.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    She's still doing the sewer system a favor by providing the influent flow rate it was designed for.

    Not using the fresh water is no big deal for pressurized distribution. On the other hand, a lack of influent flow in the gravity based sewer system can slow things down. Many sewers had a problem after low-flow toilets were forced down our throats.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    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."

    More meddling by the one-world blue helmet squad.

  • Tonio||

    Yeah, I'd like to know more about this IPMC business. For it to have the force of law it has to be incorporated by reference into either the state or municipal laws. This is commonly done with the National Electrical Code, and I believe with fire codes, but in the case of the NEC it's at least a US body. I'm sure all those cranky old republicans in Cape Coral would be super happy to know that their city outsourced part of their lawmaking to an unaccountable international body.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Yeah, I can't stand this business of legislation deferring shit to private groups, like they tried with MPAA and ESRB ratings.

  • Tonio||

    I'm wary of things like the NEC on principle, but that is balanced by other concerns. If every municipality wrote their own electrical codes taxes would go up due to duplication of effort. Electical supplies, such as boxes, would become more expensive if companies had to stop manufacturing mass quantities of one-device-meets-all-codes units, and manufacture smaller quantities of different units.

    MPAA and ESRB do not, AFAIK, have the force of law, unlike the NEC which does when the local laws incorporate it by reference.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    There were attempts to legally enforce the age restrictions determined by the MPAA, and later the ESRB. Neither made it past the first amendment, but businesses voluntarily enforce some of them as part of their service agreements anyway.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    City officials concede the code doesn't require anybody to use the hook-up to the water system, but they have to connect, just because.

    How about, "Just because they then get to collect a minimum fee per month"?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Why not install an outdoor faucet you never intend to use and hook the city water up to that? My water bill is labled water & sewage so I'm guessing she's not getting around paying them something.

  • BobB59||

    That's not a bad idea, though it is important that it be used periodically. When water systems have dead ends there is a high risk of stagnation and thus contamination of the public water supply. I'm an architect and we do this frequently in old buildings when the old service is under a highway. Also, my understanding is she has to connect to the water because the utility is provided as water and sewer. She is connected to the sewers and should be paying for that.

  • Tonio||

    Some of the intense gardeners I know have a separate meter and service for their outdoor hose bibs, that way they don't get charged sewer fees for that water.

    She is stealing sewer service from her neighbors since they pay and she doesn't. I condemn that in the mildest possible terms.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I was actually thinking about this exact same thing last night. More supplimental or back-up than replacement. Although we certainly get the precipitation in Columbus that could probably go along ways. Have never really looked into anything like this stuff before. I imagine you would have to tie in some sort of battery array system to your control panel for any solar or wind electric system. I probably would want to tie in a gas generator into the back-up system as well.

  • Tonio||

    Natural gas powered generators are the way to go if you live in an area with service. I live at the edge of the grid and though I have suffered numerous and extended power outages the gas service has never gone out.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Good to know. Thanks!

  • Tonio||

    You're welcome. Diesel/gas is expensive to store onsite and you have to turn it over or keep up with additives to keep it usable. Propane tanks give you more control and insulate you from gas utility problems (which, as noted above, are rare in my area). Do note that nat gas (pipes not tanks) can be very expensive if you have to run the generator for several days.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    The good thing with gas, as well as water systems, is that they stay pressurized for about a day if there is some kind of problem somewhere. Unless the problem is close to you- then no guarantees.

  • Almanian!||

    This is partly why I live in "the country". and have a well and septic.

    Fuck the meddling bureaucrats - we'll take care of ourselves.

    "BUT WE CAN'T LET YOU DO THAT!" Fucking people...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This is partly why I live in "the country".

    No kidding. Every goddam day I see another reason to be glad I don't live in town.

  • VicRattlehead||

    I third this motion, I was just bithcing about driving 45 mins through CNY in 1 1/2 feet of snow and ice to get to work by 7am, then i found out about the new taxes, mine went down about 30 bucks (i know woopie) but my cousin who lives in the city went up 1800$.... fucking beureucrats indeed

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    Actually the hatchet faced, sour and bossy Code Enforcement people in my town allowed me to give my son his first lesson in libertarianism...
    We were at the grand re-opening of a chain haircut place, and they had a small banner proclaiming such, tied to a post and a bush near their door.

    HORRORS!

    So in stomps a stereotypical local "civil servant" who demands to see the manager - he is a code enforcement officer who is off duty. He argle bargles about the banner, and hands over a warning/citation and stomps out. The manager is puzzled because she had cleared this with Code Enforcement, and had other code stasi come by and give grudging approval.

    My sons says "what a jerk", and I proceeded to explain that those are the kind of people the job attracts - dismal, sour, shabby souled folk that love to lord it over their fellow man - take note.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    John says we shouldn't blame the actual enforcers. I say fuckem'. They can go in the same stack with the rest.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Enforcers are same idiots electing the ones who create the arbitrary codes, the same shrews at the PTA afraid their kid is going to catch the gay, or talk to a black... or even worse, hear one of the words arbitrarily given the title of "dirty"
    These people all need to get laid... by a loaded 12 gague

  • Ken Shultz||

    They're terrified whenever people don't need the government for something.

  • Tonio||

    Why, yes, Ken. Yes, they are.

  • RishJoMo||

    I think the City of Cape Coral SUCKS as do those who run it!

    www.Anon-VPN.com

  • VicRattlehead||

    Next anon bot will tell us we are all super intelligent god-like men with no equals.

  • silverfang789||

    Those rules are designed to do one thing: force people to depend on the system.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I certainly pity the woman and she should just move to another location more fitting her lifestyle but I'm willing to bet that she (along with most other Americans) has strong opinions about the importance of government, rules, and regulations which are 'irritating' but necessary in order to protect the American way of life from sliding down the path of Sudan or Satan.

    One another note: http://www.newschannel5.com/st.....athers-car

    There is an online petition going on concerning this case and I'm willing to bet most of the people supporting this young man are perfectly content seeing their form of draconian law oppressing others as long as the legality supports their ideological bent. Humans seem largely bereft of complex social awareness.

  • Onlooker||

    The king must have his tribute.

  • Spartacus||

    The city that tells you what you can park in your own driveway has more stupid petty regulations. Quelle surprise.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "Where an existing, adequate municipal water system is available in a public right-of-way or easement abutting the property, or within 200 feet of the property being served by a well system, connections shall be made so that the well shall no longer be used for human consumption."

    This is horseshit.

  • Spartacus||

    Cape Coma spent a gazillion dollars installing a sewage system several (maybe ten?) years ago, and now they have to get every penny they can squeeze out of the proles to pay for it.

  • BobB59||

    A public sewer system is absolutely necessary in dense living conditions. A septic system uses the soil to filter the effluent (SH*T). Eventually they get saturated. This simply doesn't work without large land tracts. Wells in this area would contributed to dewatering of the soil which can in turn cause sinkholes. Their requirement to connect is a reasonable requirement. With coastal communities well and septic systems don't work well. The land use demands dictate that everyone wants to be close to the coast. That system can only be safely served through a piped system.

  • Tonio||

    +1 Huge Tracts of Land

  • VicRattlehead||

    hey thats what they get for building 3 castles that sank into the swamp

  • Tonio||

    But Bob, you forgot to mention the various other sewer disposal options. Not intimately familiar with those but last time I looked at an OTG catalog there were several different technologies - heat, chemical and something called a self-composting toilet.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Self-composting is like port-potty/airplane/rv blue shit.

  • JWatts||

    "A public sewer system is absolutely necessary in dense living conditions. "

    Which the lady in the article uses.

    "Wells in this area would contributed to dewatering of the soil which can in turn cause sinkholes. "

    She's not using a well, she's using rain water.

    It would be reasonable to charge her a sewer fee. It would even be reasonable to insist that she flush the sewer regularly with enough water to ensure it didn't clog.

    It's stupid to insist she hook up an electrical and water connection.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "The land use demands dictate that everyone wants to be close to the coast."

    This demands that I assume that people are entitled to live near the coast, at the expense of property rights and market freedom. Which I do not assume.

  • Babylonandon||

    As far as the propane - she's probably using larger RV style bottles. Lots of RV outlets in Florida where you can refill or exchange bottles.

    There are a lot of serious RV'er techniques you can use to make yourself pretty sustainable without the normal infrastructure. Go down to some places in Arizona where people "dry camp" (no sewage systems or external water supply) and you'll see some pretty creative water-management and recycling systems in use ... plus all the solar systems, exotic heating solutions, etc.

    There are dry toilet systems where natural decomposition is employed that have become so sophisticated that you can't even smell them.

    People have figured out some spectacular ways of NOT relying on what most folks consider normal techniques of living that are very comfortable and only a little bit more difficult to use.

  • Response||

    I hope she succeeds in living in her niche. If the gov, however, prevents her from living off the grid then she should consider moving to New Zealand where living off the grid is the norm.

  • Bob Straub||

    I wonder how many of the services Cape Coral wants her to connect with are supplied by Cape Coral, and not private companies. In the Borough of Ephrata, PA, the borough supplies electricity. Where I live, PPL distributes electricity and I have a choice of generation companies, but Ephrata Borough still supplies water and sewer. Of course, cable TV is a legislated monopoly/franchise.
    I wish this lady well.

  • trig||

    We toured a small farm recently that is "off the grid" and they're using solar and micro hydro. I asked him how the heck he got away with micro hydro and he said his local water master happens to be helpful and arranged for the 7 different agencies/organizations that have to sign off for such a thing to happen to show up at the same time to look at his property and plans. I've never heard of another case like this. Micro hydro is essentially impossible in most places due the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy you would have to wade through to do it.

  • VicRattlehead||

    unless you live in the middle of nowhere and, you know, just do it because that's how you're choosing to utilize your privately purchased property. if you do it right and no problems occur downstream i fail to see how you would get caught

  • VicRattlehead||

    I wonder if you were to recycle the waste electricity generated by high tension lines by collecting the expanding and collapsing magnetic fields through use of an inductor bank, would that be illegally stealing electricity or would it be recycling since the energy isn't coming from in the line but as a result of the line being present and exciting the electrons in the atmosphere

  • JWatts||

    "collecting the expanding and collapsing magnetic fields through use of an inductor bank, would that be illegally stealing electricity "

    It's absolutely stealing. The energy isn't created out of thin air, you are taking it from the line.

    First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.

    In the case you are talking about, the creation of the magnetic field creates a higher impedance in the transmission line. The net effect is transferring power from the line to your inductive loop. Indeed, that's how transformers work. Through and inductive loop. So, all the electrical power you get is obtained by that very method.

    Also, inductance loss is readily detected and the Power company will have you arrested for theft for doing so assuming they can detect it. Granted, if you don't use much and it's a big line, you could probably get away with it.

  • Eeyore||

    You guys realize that collecting rainwater is illegal or at least highly regulated in parts of this country?

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