A California man is facing criminal charges for erecting a small dwelling off the grid on property that he owns.
Soylent CEO Rob Rhinehart purchased the 8,422-square-foot piece of land on Los Angeles’ Flat Top Hill in a city auction in December. With no electricity or water hook-ups, it sold for a cheap $21,300. Rhinehart spent a further $1,500 buying a red shipping container to place on the land and adding a portable toilet and solar power. His aim was to create a minimalist home featuring graywater recycling, solar panels, and a septic tank.
Rhinehart offered to move the structure to a different location after complaints from neighbors, but the city had already started to file the charges. He is due in court on September 7 for arraignment. He is facing a $4,000 fine and could even end up spending two years in prison.
Rhinehart is disappointed by the city’s actions. He pointed out that he has spent thousands of dollars improving the land, removing garbage from it, and even mowing the grass on the entire hilltop.
City Attorney Mike Feuer says that unpermitted structures not only pose a safety risk, but they can also be unsightly and adversely affect a neighborhood’s quality of life. Of course, the fact hat Rhinehart does not intend to connect it to the government-regulated grid with its associated fees is probably the biggest motivator behind the legal action.
Rhinehart asked where the city was when the property was vandalized, saying that someone placed graffiti on the structure and smashed his windows. The shipping container has also attracted trespassers, who neighbors say gather there and engage in undesirable behavior.
On his blog, Rhinehart issued an apology to his neighbors. He said: “As a first time property owner, the container was meant to be an experiment in sustainable housing. In the future, I will ensure that I do my due diligence with regard to all city and neighborhood regulations. Flat Top Hill is a gem of Los Angeles, and I intend to make only positive contributions to the neighborhood and community going forward.”
Rhinehart embraces minimalist lifestyle
He says that if Los Angeles allows him to proceed, he will obtain the appropriate permits from the city to reinstall the existing structure or a “new iteration” of it, which he will surround by a fence to provide privacy and security.
Rhinehart is the inventor of Soylent, a meal replacement beverage designed to meet all of an adult’s nutritional requirements. He embraces a minimalist lifestyle and avoids using the alternating current electrical grid. He doesn’t use a kitchen, saying on his blog that they are “expensive and dirty.” He eats only Soylent at home and drinks red wine because it does not require refrigeration. He uses a camping butane stove when he wants tea or coffee, and he runs his computer off of a solar system. For entertainment, he enjoys the great outdoors or reads books. With this type of lifestyle, it’s easy to see why the lack of hook-ups did not deter him from buying the property.
Authorities harassing those who wish to live off-grid
The incident calls to mind the situation in Costilla County, Colorado. Hundreds of people have been buying up land there to try to live off-grid, and they are being harassed by county authorities because of their lifestyle. People there are required to get permits to camp on their land, and these permits are often not even granted, making it illegal for these people to actually live on their own property!
It’s clear that many authorities feel very threatened by people who are looking to reduce their reliance on the grid, whether it’s a complete lifestyle change or simply a safe place to keep storable foods in case of emergency. In a free country like America, shouldn’t people be allowed to live a self-reliant lifestyle on their own land if they choose?