Soylent CEO Criminally Charged for “Unpermitted” Off-Grid Tiny Home

rhinehartBy Justin Gardner

Rob Rhinehart, developer of the “magical milkshake” known as Soylent, has been criminally charged for attempting to build an off-grid “experiment in sustainable living” without obtaining city permits. He could face up to two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.

Rhinehart bought an 8,422-square foot plot of land on Flat Top Hill overlooking the city and placed a shipping container on it, planning to create a minimalist dwelling with solar panels, septic tank and graywater recycling.

However, any time someone wants to live detached from the government-regulated grid and associated extortion fees, it draws the attention of authorities.

Part of the problem may be that he didn’t move quickly enough for nearby residents who complained about the large red structure sitting up on the hill. They didn’t like that some trash was left behind after Rhinehart hosted a party there, and how the shipping container became the target of graffiti and misbehaving youngsters.

Rhinehart said he would move the structure to a new location, but the city was already working to bring him up on charges. Rhinehart maintains that he spent thousands to improve the land, remove trash and mow the grass on his land and the entire hilltop.

“Flat Top hill has been a gathering spot since long before I arrived. I would be thrilled if the area became a park, but that has not materialized so in the meantime I have a right to use land that I own,” Rhinehart told The Guardian via email. “I want a sturdy, lightweight, affordable home.”

Nearby residents have long called for the area to be turned into a park, but the city wanted to make a buck from it, so they auctioned it in December, allowing Rhinehart to purchase the land.

Now, after residents complained, and with no indication Rhinehart intends to connect to the city grid, Los Angeles has deemed the shipping container an “unlawful structure” and removed it.

“Unpermitted structures pose a safety risk,” said City Attorney Mike Feuer. “They also can be unsightly and erode the quality of life in a neighborhood.”

But Rhinehart wonders where the city was when his property was being vandalized. “My home was graffitied and the windows were smashed,” Rhinehart told The Guardian. “That’s my fault? Where are the police?”

Concerning the residents who complained about the structure, the 27-year-old CEO offered an apology on his blog.

I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to my neighbors who I upset.

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 plans to reinstall the structure or “a new iteration” of his design and build a fence for security and privacy. He also intends to get the necessary permits from Los Angeles, assuming they let him go forward with the off-grid experiment.

But first he has to show up in court on September 7 for arraignment to fight overzealous authorities, who were glad to take his money for purchasing the land but are now displeased that his structure is unpermitted.

Many other cities have approved shipping container projects, as Rhinehart points out. His experiment at Flat Top Hill will tell us whether Los Angeles is on board with the trend toward sustainable living, or thwarts the attempt at living free from the clutches of the government-regulated grid.

Justin Gardner writes for, where this article first appeared.

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19 Comments on "Soylent CEO Criminally Charged for “Unpermitted” Off-Grid Tiny Home"

  1. per sigurd hansen | August 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Reply


  2. Get a lawyer. There is no foundation on that container therefore it is a portable shed not a permanent structure & requires no permits irregardless of what his plans were.

  3. Welcome to California, where freedom is only an illusion.

  4. I love it. This is great. The red color definitely brought attention to this guy’s point. So much for grabby, greedy towns selling land that should have been park space. Given the historical use of the space, he did the right thing. Can’t wait to see how this story turns out.

  5. Looney Liberal in the land of Fruits and nuts. THEY only want green iF they do it or can make money on it.

    • So true… it’s funny how “liberal” means anything but “liberty” now. We might love fruits and nuts, but no matter your political views, its silly for them to make draconian laws that keep us from using our own property for otherwise legal activities.

  6. William Burke | August 15, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Reply

    “Rhinehart bought an 8,422-square foot plot of land on Flat Top Hill overlooking the city”

    WHAT city? There is no city named in the article. Would-be journalists: WHO WHAT WHERE WHY WHEN. The 5Ws are basic and cannot become outdated. We are talking basic, minimal number of vital facts here.

    Shame on you!

    • Perhaps it’s near L.A.?

      “and with no indication Rhinehart intends to connect to the city grid, Los Angeles has deemed the shipping container an “unlawful structure” and removed it.”
      “Flat Top Hill is a gem of Los Angeles”
      “He also intends to get the necessary permits from Los Angeles,”
      “is experiment at Flat Top Hill will tell us whether Los Angeles is on board with”

      • You missed the point. The reader should not have to go deeper into the story to find out what “the city” refers to. One should not force the reader to become the detective. Who, what, where, when and why all should appear in the first couple paragraphs. The reporter is supposed to do that work for the reader. If he doesn’t he can’t blame anyone for not reading his work.

        • I could claim that mentioning the city four times is repetitive.
          Fortunately, the author is not employed by either of us.
          Perhaps we should demand that someone else match our standards?

  7. Harness wind, …

  8. Louis Charles | August 16, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Reply

    dude…. you live in california. NEXXXXXXT

  9. chuck Findlay | August 17, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Reply

    This guy was stupid, he set himself up to fail from the start.

    1: paint it before you take it to the site and paint it in a color that will blend in.

    2: don’t put it on top of a hill where it can be seen for miles, put it someplace out of site.

    3: I would bet he’s the type of person that is a “Look at Me” type (I get this vibe from poking around his web site) and that draws attention. And trying to live off grid you don’t want to draw attention as cities need money and make less of it from a person that is not tied into the system. So they go into survival mode and make low budget off-grid living against the law.

    I plan on going off grid in the near future and you can bet I’m going to keep a low profile, I will NOT be throwing a party at my off-grid location.

    The nail that’s sticking up gets pounded down. Like it or not that is a truth of life, it always has and always will be so.

    This guy stuck his head up and it got pounded down.

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