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RLUIPA case settlement allows Minnesota church to operate tiny house as part of homeless ministry

A Minnesota church has favorably settled its RLUIPA lawsuit against the City of St. Cloud over plans to operate a tiny house to shelter a homeless person.

St. John’s Episcopal Church wanted to place a 132-square-foot “tiny house” on its property to house one homeless person. Part of the Church’s religious mission involves serving the homeless community. To fulfill this mission, the Church partnered with two nonprofit organizations to place the tiny house on its property.

To do so, the City’s zoning ordinances required the Church amend an existing Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The Church submitted an amended CUP application, but the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied the request. Soon after, the Church sued the City under RLUIPA and the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions.

Earlier this month, the Church and City announced they had reached a settlement agreement. Under the settlement, the Church agreed to remove the 132-square-foot tiny house. Instead, the Church is allowed to place a nearly three times larger house on the property. The 384-square-foot house will have a foundation, electric heat, and will connect to the Church’s existing water and sewer system.

The tiny house movement has grown exponentially in popularity the last few years. Tiny houses for the homeless have been built in several cities across the country, including Detroit, Nashville, and Seattle. Because the tiny house movement is so new, municipalities are still figuring out how to craft zoning and building ordinances that appropriately regulate the structures.

As this case shows, RLUIPA can help religious institutions that desire to operate tiny houses to advance their ministry. Many people know that RLUIPA protects the “typical” houses of worship, like churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. Far fewer realize RLUIPA also protects a wide array of less common religious uses.

Some of these lesser-known religious uses include:

  • Religious schools
  • Religious retreat centers
  • Religious camps
  • Homeless shelters
  • Soup kitchens
  • Group homes
  • Home prayer gatherings
  • In-home Bible studies

You can find more information on the relationship between tiny houses and RLUIPA in a previous blog post we wrote here.

If you represent a religious organization and are wondering if RLUIPA protects you and your ministry, feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to answer your questions.

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