Chasidy Decker has been homeless for 15 days, despite owning a tiny home in Meridian.
The city of Meridian effectively evicted her from her tiny home on Aug. 1, because city code restricts the size and use of secondary homes. Now, sleeping on a friend’s couch, Decker is preparing to sue the city, claiming it violated her private property rights and retaliated against her after the Idaho Statesman published its June 14 article on Decker’s tiny home and battle with Meridian Code Enforcement.
The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that says it opposes government overreach, says it chose to represent Decker after reading the Statesman article. According to the lawsuit, Decker’s lawyers plan to challenge Meridian’s law that bans the use of mobile tiny homes as a residence or living quarters outside of an RV park.
Bill Nary, city attorney for Meridian, said in an email that the city cannot comment on pending litigation and that the case is a Code Enforcement matter.
The Institute for Justice said it plans to sue Tuesday in state District Court in Boise. Robert Calacal, the homeowner who rented Decker the space, is Decker’s co-plaintiff.
Decker moved her 252-square-foot “tiny,” her shorthand for tiny home, to Calacal’s property on Leisure Lane near Cherry Lane and and Linder Road, in May. The home is on wheels and must be pulled by a vehicle to move it.
She lived there for two days before Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Negrete came by the property to tell her she could not live in the home. He gave her 10 days to leave.
After the Statesman’s story, Decker said, the city extended her deadline until Aug. 1. But she still could find no spot in any RV parks or any other property to legally move her home to. Decker resorted to couch surfing with friends. The home is still on Calacal’s property.
“I own a home and I am homeless,” Decker said, by phone. “That is insane to me.”
Claim: Meridian code violates Idaho Constitution on property rights
The lawsuit claims the Meridian code that bans living in a tiny home as a primary residence on a private property violates the Idaho Constitution, which requires that laws infringing on property rights have a direct and substantial relation to legitimate government interests.
The lawsuit says the Meridian ordinance is not supported by a legitimate government interest. It claims the ordinance does not promote health and safety and does not preserve the character or aesthetics of a neighborhood, because it prohibits people from living in tiny homes but not from parking them.
“The ordinance does not serve any other legitimate purpose justifying the use of the state’s police power,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also claims the Meridian ordinance prohibits Calacal from using his private property in the “reasonable, safe and ordinary way he expected to use it when he purchased it.”
Claim: Meridian retaliated after Statesman story
After the Statesman’s article was published, Negrete visited Decker and Calacal’s property three more times and cited them both for parking violations and vehicle registration problems, the lawsuit said. Decker and Calacal believed these citations were because of their involvement in the Statesman story, the lawsuit said.
Negrete also confronted Decker in the early morning Aug. 1, when she was walking her dog around her tiny home, Decker and her lawyers said. According to Decker, Negrete told her that he was angry about the story and how it portrayed him. Decker said she was in tears after the conversation.
The lawsuit claims Negrete violated Decker’s and Calacal’s constitutional right to free speech by retaliating against them after the story.
“In America and in Idaho, if freedom of speech means anything at all, it means that you can speak out when you feel that the government has treated you unfairly,” Bob Belden, an Institute for Justice attorney, told the Statesman by phone. “And that is exactly what Chasidy did.”
Claim: Out-of-state residents targeted
Decker and Calacal’s lawyers believe they were targeted for the code violations because of their out-of-state license plates and because Calacal lives in California.
“There are RVs, tiny homes, broken-down cars, mobile homes, large shipping containers, mechanical equipment, and debris on the yards of other properties on Leisure Lane,” the lawsuit said. “Some of the RVs, tiny homes, and other similar structures are plugged into RV hookups on other properties on Leisure Lane.”
Decker said she believes someone is living in a tiny home parked on a residence just up the street from Calacal’s.
“When Chasidy asked Officer Negrete why she has to abide by the code, while other residents in the neighborhood are not required to abide by the code, he told her that other residents have lived in the neighborhood for a long time, while she and Robert just moved there from out-of-state,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said the city took a position that the other residents in the neighborhood were “grandfathered in” to their nonconforming use. Decker’s lawyers claim that that position is incorrect, because the people living there would have to have lived there since before 1978 in order to be grandfathered into the previous code. 1978 was when the properties were annexed into the city from Ada County.
A housing crisis in Boise
Boise is in the midst of a housing crisis, with homes in short supply and prices skyrocketing. Rents have increased by more than 35% since March 2020, making the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment over $1,000 a month, according to Apartment List.
For Belden and Decker, the lawsuit is about more than just one woman: It is about ensuring that Idahoans have a place to live.
“When you sort of take a look at this from a 30,000-foot level, everybody in America and everybody in Idaho needs a place to live,” Belden said. “And Chasidy already owns a perfectly safe place to live, but the city of Meridian would rather see her be homeless than live in it.”