BOISE, Idaho—It is no secret that the Boise area has become dramatically more expensive to live in over the last few years. Chasidy Decker is a native of the Treasure Valley who was priced out of the roaring traditional Boise real estate market. But she found a way to continue living in the area she calls home: she bought a beautiful tiny home she arranged to park on Meridian homeowner Robert Calacal’s private property for modest rent. But something unexpected got in the way of what should have been a win for everybody: the government.
Meridian code enforcement threatened Chasidy and Robert with fines and jail time if she didn’t leave her only home. That is a cruel policy during a housing crisis; it is also unconstitutional. That’s why, today, Chasidy and Robert, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), are challenging Meridian’s irrational and arbitrary ban on tiny homes on wheels for violating the Idaho Constitution.
“Everyone needs a place to live, but the City would rather have Chasidy be homeless than live in a tiny home parked on private property,” said IJ Attorney Bob Belden. “That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional.”
Chasidy grew up in the Treasure Valley and left temporarily in 2019 to help her mom out after her grandfather died. But she always wanted to move back home. After she left, the Boise area became one of the areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, with housing prices increasing 118 percent between the first quarter of 2017 and 2022; that’s more than double the national increase of 50 percent over the same time period. Luckily for Chasidy, she had already bought her tiny house on wheels and had been living in it while helping her mom. All she had to do was find a place to park it. Chasidy searched for months and eventually found that Robert would let her park it on his property for $600 per month plus about $100 per month for utilities.
The day after Chasidy moved into her 252 square foot home on Robert’s property, a Meridian code enforcement officer told Chasidy she had to move out. The officer said that while Chasidy was allowed to park her home on the property indefinitely, she could not live in the home. When Chasidy pointed out that other people in the neighborhood were living in RVs, tiny homes, and similar vehicles, the code enforcement officer claimed that other neighbors are allowed to live in them because they have been there a long time, whereas Robert recently arrived from California.
“It’s ironic this is happening,” said Chasidy. “I chose to live in a tiny home to ensure I always had a roof over my head and now the city is making me homeless.”
The Idaho Constitution requires all laws to have a legitimate government interest. But Meridian’s ban has none—Chasidy’s home is perfectly safe, which Meridian conceded when they encouraged her to move it to an RV park to live in. The city also can’t argue that her home would somehow affect the appearance of the neighborhood since her tiny home is perfectly legal to keep where it’s parked—she just can’t live in it. Chasidy’s tiny home also fits right into her neighborhood, which has many RVs and trailers, several of which are always hooked up to traditional homes.
After Chasidy was confronted by code enforcement and told she had to leave her tiny home, she told her story to the Idaho Statesman. But the City’s Code Enforcement Officer did not like how the article made him look, and he angrily confronted Chasidy about it. After the article, the officer also cited Chasidy and Robert for trivial parking and vehicle violations. The Idaho Constitution protects free speech and prevents exactly this type of retaliation by government officials.
“At a time when so few housing options are available to low- and middle-income Americans, why is the city’s zoning ordinance further reducing such options?” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “Cities should be making it easier for residents to find affordable housing, not more difficult.”
IJ has successfully challenged arbitrary laws that prohibit people from using their property in ways that people have always used their property: to grow vegetables on their front lawn, to run small home businesses, and to bake and sell food from a home kitchen. Currently, IJ is fighting a zoning law that bans the construction of tiny homes in a small Georgia city, as well as a zoning law prohibiting an Arizona woman from living in an RV on her own property. IJ stands ready to fight government contributions to the housing crisis, and help property owners fight increasingly intrusive and irrational regulations.