The housing crisis has hit every corner of the country and few places have been hit as hard as the Boise area; housing prices increased 118 percent between the first quarter of 2017 and 2022. That is more than double the national increase of 50 percent over the same time period. The increase has been driven by the discovery of the region’s quality of life and the fact that new homes haven’t popped up quickly enough to keep up. Chasidy Decker, a native of the Treasure Valley, had a savvy solution to owning a home after being priced out of the general Boise real estate market: she bought a beautiful 252-square foot tiny house on wheels and found a local Meridian homeowner, Robert Calacal, who would let her park it on his property for $600 per month.

This seems like a win for everyone; home ownership becomes possible for people like Chasidy and current homeowners can earn a little extra money to pay their mortgage. But in May 2022—the day after Chasidy moved in—a Meridian City Code Enforcement Officer threatened both Chasidy and Robert with criminal prosecution and fines of $1,000 per day unless she moved out of her tiny house. Meridian’s City Code allows tiny homes on wheels and RVs to be parked in residential neighborhoods but bans actually living in them except in RV parks.

When Robert and Chasidy pointed out that other people are living in tiny homes and RVs in the neighborhood, the City Code Enforcement Officer claimed that other neighbors are allowed to violate the code because they have lived there a long time, while Robert just arrived in the neighborhood from California. This makes no legal sense (or any sense at all).

Cities like Meridian should promote rather than discourage their residents’ private efforts to find affordable housing during a housing crisis. But Meridian’s ban on tiny homes on wheels is not just bad policy—it is unconstitutional. 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 and then live in it. The city also can’t argue over aesthetics since her tiny home is not only attractive, but perfectly legal to keep where it’s parked—she just can’t live in it.

After Chasidy was confronted by City 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 from government officials.

Although Chasidy’s life has been turned upside down, she refuses to give up. She and Robert, represented by the Institute for Justice, have brought a constitutional lawsuit against Meridian’s irrational ban on living in tiny homes and the City’s retaliation against Chasidy’s free speech.

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Matt Powers Reporting and Communications Manager mpowers@ij.org

Boise’s Pricey Housing Market

Boise has one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. According to Oxford Economics, Boise home prices are now about 70 percent higher than what the median household income of city residents can afford. As in other hot real estate markets, the historically low inventory of homes makes it unlikely that home prices will drop much in the next year, even if the real estate market undergoes a significant correction.

Chasidy Decker

Chasidy Decker is a 46-year-old woman who has lived in the Boise area for almost her entire life. She has worked as a bookkeeper and a cosmetologist. In 2019, Chasidy temporarily moved to Reno to help her mother handle the death of Chasidy’s grandfather. Chasidy’s mother inherited some money from Chasidy’s grandfather and gave Chasidy money to buy a very attractive 252-square-foot tiny home on wheels from Tiny Idahomes in Emmett, Idaho. But as much as Chasidy loved being close to her mom, Chasidy couldn’t wait to move back home to the Boise area. She spent months actively looking for a place where she could park her tiny home in the Treasure Valley.

Finally, Chasidy connected with Robert Calacal on Craigslist, who was waiting to close on a house on Leisure Lane in Meridian, near Cherry Lane and Linder Road. Robert advertised that his new house had RV hookups to rent, which could be used for water, sewer and electric needs. Robert and Chasidy signed a lease for Chasidy to rent the RV hookup and space next to Robert’s house for $600 a month. Chasidy moved to Meridian and parked her tiny house at the address immediately after Robert closed on the house, in mid-May 2022. She also got a new job nearby.

Robert Calacal

Robert bought the house on Leisure Lane in May in large part because it had RV hookups that Robert thought he could rent out to help pay the mortgage. Robert purchased the house for his 21-year-old son, who lived in Boise but was having trouble paying rent on his own with the skyrocketing rental prices. Robert’s son and three roommates now live in the home together and pay rent to Robert.

Robert believed he could rent out his RV hookups because the house is located on a private road and there are many other trailers and RVs in the neighborhood. Several of them are hooked up to nearby homes, with some being lived in. The previous owner of the house also had had a trailer hooked up next to the home, with a resident living in it for about five years.

City Enforcement and the City Code

The day after Chasidy parked her tiny home at Robert’s property, City Code Enforcement came to Chasidy’s tiny home and said she could not live there. The City cited Chasidy and Robert under section 11-3A-20 of its zoning code, which effectively bans living in “Traveling living quarters.” The provision states:

No motor vehicle or trailer including, but not limited to, travel trailers, fifth wheels, recreational vehicles, mobile tiny houses and/or motor coaches, shall be used as a residence or as living quarters except within an approved recreational vehicle park. No recreational equipment, including, but not limited to, tents, tepees, yurts, and/or huts, shall be used as a residence or as living quarters. (emphasis added).

The City Code does, however, allow tiny homes on wheels to “park” permanently in residential areas. Meridian Code § 11-3C-4. As a result, the City told Chasidy she can keep her tiny home parked next to Robert’s house; she just can’t live in it.

Meanwhile, City Code Enforcement seems to be ignoring all the code violations on neighboring properties. Many of the nearby homes have multiple trailers and RVs parked in their driveways or on the grass and some are being lived in. There is also debris, mechanical equipment and broken-down cars visible in front of many of the homes, and several of the homes even have large shipping containers parked permanently in their yards.

The City Code Enforcement Officer made comments about Robert and Chasidy being new to town and having out-of-state license plates. City Code Enforcement also claims that other residents are allowed to break the code because they have lived in the neighborhood for many years.

The Code Enforcement Officer initially only gave Chasidy 10 days to move and refused to give her an extension.

Chasidy Goes to the Press

Chasidy was distraught and didn’t know what to do. Chasidy decided to reach out to Jason Jones, who is a leader in the local tiny home movement. Jason contacted the Idaho Statesman, who ran a story about Chasidy’s plight on June 8, 2022.

The article stated that “Decker worried that the city’s move to effectively evict her would leave her homeless.” It also stated the code enforcement officer had only given Chasidy 10 days to move out and had not given her an extension. After the article ran, the City decided to give Chasidy more time to move out until August 1. But evidently, the Code Enforcement Officer was not happy with the negative publicity.

City Code Enforcement Retaliates Against Chasidy

One day after the article ran, the officer came back to the property. He pointed out that some of the cars were parked incorrectly on the property’s gravel driveway and some of the cars had expired registrations. These identical violations existed on neighboring properties, but the officer ignored them. On June 14, the officer then gave Chasidy and Robert citations for these violations, which threatened criminal charges, $1,000 daily fines and jail time if the violations were not fixed. On the same day, the officer also gave Chasidy and Robert a citation for the tiny house.

Chasidy and Robert suspected the officer was retaliating against them for the article, a suspicion that was confirmed a few weeks later. Complying with the City’s deadline, Chasidy moved out of her house on August 1 and left the tiny home parked at Robert’s house. She then came back to her tiny home the next morning for a few minutes to take care of some things. Even though it was 6:45 in the morning, the Code Enforcement Officer confronted her outside the tiny home. Although Chasidy was not doing anything wrong, the officer was very angry.

The first thing the officer said was that he did not like the article in the Idaho Statesman because he thought it made him look bad. He complained that the article said that he was “evicting” Chasidy, but that he had never used the word “eviction.” He also told Chasidy, “Don’t be surprised if officers will be driving up and down this little private drive at all hours of the day and night to ensure nobody is living here.”

The officer also told Chasidy she shouldn’t try to bring a lawsuit—which was an odd statement, as neither Robert nor Chasidy had ever mentioned a lawsuit. Nevertheless, the officer continued to warn Chasidy that if she brought a lawsuit, she would regret it. He said, “if this goes to court, it could get very costly” and would result in Chasidy and Robert having to pay tens of thousands of dollars. The officer also said the city has a “powerhouse team of attorneys” would fight her tooth and nail. Chasidy left the conversation in tears.

The City’s Actions Have Left Chasidy Homeless

Chasidy now has nowhere to live. Chasidy had initially planned to rent a room. But unfortunately, those plans fell through only days before Chasidy was supposed to move out on August 1. Chasidy also can’t afford an apartment. The average rent for an apartment in Boise City is over $1,500 and is even higher in Meridian. It is also especially difficult for Chasidy to find a place to stay with both her cat and dog.

Chasidy also can’t simply move her tiny home to another town. While both Meridian and other towns allow tiny homes in RV parks, all the nearby RV parks are full—and many have years-long waitlists. Chasidy also strongly desires to stay in the Boise area, which has been her home for almost her entire life.

Chasidy felt like she had no choice but to try to change the law. So despite the officer’s warning not to bring a lawsuit, she decided to bring her battle to the courts.

Legal Claims

Meridian’s ban on living in tiny homes on wheels and enforcement of this ban against Chasidy and Robert is unconstitutional and violates their property rights. The Code Enforcement Officer’s retaliation against Chasidy because of the Statesman article also violates Chasidy’s free speech rights. Therefore, the lawsuit alleges three types of claims:

Substantive Due Process Claims

First, the ban violates the right to “substantive due process” under the Idaho State Constitution. All laws—including zoning laws—need to have a rational basis connected to a legitimate government interest. But here, the ban is completely arbitrary.

The city has yet to explain to Chasidy why it is banning her from living in her home. The city may argue in court that its ban on living in tiny homes is necessary to protect the safety of the would-be tiny home residents. It may argue that tiny homes don’t perfectly comply with its building code (which is designed for larger, more traditional homes) and they are thus unsafe. But the city has yet to explain to Chasidy why it is banning her from living in her home. The city may argue in court that its ban on living in tiny homes is necessary to protect the safety of the would-be tiny home residents. It may argue that tiny homes don’t perfectly comply with its building code (which is designed for larger, more traditional homes) and they are thus unsafe. But Chasidy’s tiny home was made by a professional tiny house construction company and built of quality construction and conforms to the best practices for tiny home construction. It is perfectly safe. In addition, the city has stated that Chasidy can move her tiny home to an RV park and live in it there. If the city was really concerned about Chasidy’s home being unsafe, why would it allow her to continue to live in it elsewhere in the city?

Meridian may also argue that tiny homes are not aesthetically pleasing, because they don’t look like traditional homes. Aesthetics alone shouldn’t be enough to justify restricting property rights. But even if aesthetics were enough, the city can’t use aesthetics as a justification here. That’s because the city allows people to have tiny homes parked outside single-family houses; the law just says people can’t live in them. But whether a person sleeps in a tiny house has nothing to do with how aesthetically pleasing that tiny house is. In addition, Chasidy’s home is very attractive and, if it can be seen behind the fence that separates it from the road, does nothing to worsen the neighborhood’s aesthetics. If the city was really concerned about aesthetics, the city wouldn’t be targeting Chasidy.

Selective Enforcement Equal Protection Claim

The city’s selective targeting of Chasidy and Robert is also unconstitutional. The citycan’t prohibit Chasidy from living in her tiny home while allowing others in the neighborhood to continue living in RVs and other types of mobile homes—not to mention the other blatant code violations the city allows, even in the houses immediately surrounding Chasidy and Robert. The Equal Protection Clause of Idaho’s Constitution requires that all people be treated equally in the enforcement of the law.

The City Code Enforcement Officer made multiple comments about Robert and Chasidy being new to town and having out-of-state license plates, so the city may be targeting outsiders. City Code Enforcement also claims that other residents are allowed to break the code because they have lived in the neighborhood for many years—but that is arbitrary and legally irrelevant. The city cannot arbitrarily target some citizens and not others. The City Code Enforcement Officer also doubled down after Chasidy went to the press, which is unconstitutional retaliation.

Freedom of Speech Retaliation Claim

The Code Enforcement Officer’s retaliation against Chasidy because of the Statesman article also violates the Idaho Constitution’s protections for free speech. The Idaho Constitution does not allow the government to punish citizens for speaking out. But that is exactly what happened here.

The Idaho Statesman published its article about Chasidy’s tiny home on June 8. Only a day later, the code enforcement officer visited Chasidy and Robert’s home again and gave them additional parking and vehicle violations—while ignoring that neighbors had the identical violations. Then, on June 14, he sent them a formal citation for these violations, threatening fines and jail time if they were not rectified. Chasidy and Robert suspected that this was retaliation because of the Statesman article.

This suspicion was confirmed when the officer told Chasidy a few weeks later that he was still angry about how the article portrayed him and that code enforcement would be watching the house “day and night.” Code enforcement officers should be impartial enforcers of the law, not bullies with an axe to grind.

The Case Team

Chasidy and Robert are represented by Institute for Justice Attorney Bob Belden and Senior Attorneys Dan Alban and Erica Smith Ewing. They are assisted by local counsel, Edward Dindinger of Dindinger & Kohler, which has offices in Boise and Idaho City.

IJ’s Fight for Private Solutions to the Housing Crisis

America is suffering from a major housing crisis, which has left many middle- and low-income Americans unable to buy a home. This housing crisis has in large part been caused by arbitrary zoning laws that make it difficult to build less expensive homes and ban private solutions to make housing more affordable.

IJ has fought irrational zoning laws for years. For example, IJ is currently challenging Calhoun, Georgia’s ban on building homes smaller than 1,150 square feet, which is preventing a nonprofit organization from building homes for low-income and middle-income families. In Sierra Vista, Arizona, IJ is defending a woman’s right to keep living in an RV on her own property she has been living in for years.

IJ has also sent a letter to Big Water, Utah, encouraging the town to repeal its 2,000 square foot minimum requirements on homes, which is preventing Chrissy Rochford from building her dream home. IJ also recently sent a letter to Richfield, Utah, encouraging it to change its law to allow an abandoned motel that was recently converted into apartments for low-income families and domestic violence survivors to continue operating. Big Water and Richfield both claim to be in the process of changing their laws.

About the Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is a public-interest law firm that litigates nationwide to vindicate individual liberties. IJ fights against arbitrary government restrictions on the right to use property responsibly in ways that do not interfere with anyone else’s use of their property. 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. Yet government busybodies increasingly want to mandate not only what you may do on your property, but also what kind of home you are allowed to live in.