Dan King
Dan King · May 13, 2022

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to the town of Big Water, Utah, urging town officials to repeal the town’s ban on modestly sized homes. The town does not allow any homes smaller than 2,000 square feet in most of the town, which is one of the strictest minimum square footage laws IJ has found in its work on this issue. 

“All Americans should be free to build and live in homes that best fit their unique needs, as long as they comply with basic health and safety rules,” said IJ Attorney Joe Gay, one of the letter’s authors. “Banning modestly sized homes does nothing to preserve public safety. It simply makes it harder for individuals to find housing at a time where there is a nationwide housing supply crisis.” 

Chrissy Rochford is an adventure specialist in town who guides tourists through the natural attractions in Big Water. She currently lives with her dog in a small RV park, but she wants to build a 1,600-square foot home on a plot of property that will be large enough to accommodate her horses. She has secured financing to build such a home, but because of the town’s law she is unable to do so. When Chrissy asked the town’s Planning and Zoning Board to change the law so she could build her home, she was told that she could move to “the other side of town” and that the town has promised Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) that it will maintain the law, in order to “keep the property value up.”  

“I just want an affordable home that provides enough space for me and my dog, while still having enough room outdoors for my horses,” Chrissy said. 

“Under both the United States and Utah Constitution, all laws must serve a legitimate government interest, such as preserving public safety. Big Water’s unreasonable and irrational law serves no legitimate purpose and likely violates both Constitutions,” said IJ Attorney Bob Belden, the letter’s other author. 

Making matters worse, when Chrissy requested a copy of the town’s agreement with SITLA, the town failed to get her the document within the 10-day window required by Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). To this day, Chrissy still has not received a copy of the agreement, and the town has not given her an explanation for the delay, as also required under GRAMA. 

IJ has fought against similar bans on building small homes, including a lawsuit against the town of Calhoun, Georgia’s 1,150-square-foot requirement, which is preventing a nonprofit that builds affordable housing from building in that town, and a letter calling on Highland Lake, Alabama, to end its 1,800-square-foot requirement.