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What Happened to the Tiny-Home Commune, Boneyard Studios?

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[UPDATE: Lee Pera contacted Curbed DC on September 2015 to clarify that Boneyard Studios was formed by Levy and Pera and that Austin joined shortly thereafter. Additionally, the letter than Austin and Pera published March 2015 has now been taken down. While the letter was signed by both Austin and Pera, Pera wants to clarify that she did not write the letter.]

Before the tiny-home commune, Micro Showcase, was founded in 2015, Boneyard Studios was Washington, D.C.'s famed tiny-home community. The community was featured in a myriad of news organizations, including Fox 5, Dwell, The Washington Post, and Washington City Paper. Boneyard Studios was co-founded in 2012 by Brian Levy, Jay Austin, and Lee Pera, but after two years, the partnership ended in drama, which has continued to this day. On March 20, 2015, Austin and Pera published a letter on the Boneyard Studios website, describing Levy as "acting erratically" and being the cause of Boneyard Studios meeting its end. The two claim that Levy seized power of the community by purchasing a lot in his name with little to no discussion. On Levy's Micro Showcase website, though, he tells a much different story.

"We knew that one person holding the title to our communal property could impact decision-making, but we trusted that three adults could communicate and come to consensus on most things. We were wrong." - Jay Austin and Lee PeraIn their letter, Austin and Pera listed various issues they encountered with Levy, including his canceling plans for a communal water system, seizing the community garden, and "intentionally" trapping tenants inside the community by padlocking the gates. In their letter, Austin and Pera's account of Levy's actions soon resembled a kind of horror story with Levy entering Pera's tiny home in the middle of the night without permission and throwing two-by-fours into an alley to stop kids from riding scooters near the property.

While describing Boneyard Studios as ending on "less than ideal terms," Levy wrote that it failed because of "endless construction," new city zoning, existing city regulations, and a "mismatch of effort and expectations." When it came to the purchasing of the lot, Levy wrote, "There was never discussion of cooperative ownership of the property," adding that Pera was "uninterested" and Austin was absent. According to Washington City Paper, Levy bought the Stronghold lot for $29,000 under his name and spent $85,000 to further work on beautifying the lot. Pera and Austin wrote, "[We spent] equal contributions to the costs of mortgage and utilities and communally-agreed-upon improvements." [UPDATE: Levy sent this statement to Curbed DC: "I received not $1 from Lee and Jay for any of the tens of thousands of dollars I spent on bringing in electricity, putting up fencing, clearing out concrete/putting in gardens, and countless other improvements they directly agreed to and benefitted from."] On the communal water system, Levy added that the system only supported Pera and Austin, not the whole community and that the garden was available for everyone in the community, but "there were no takers, period."

Eventually, Levy wanted both Pera and Austin to leave the community. He claimed that Austin did not pay his rent for six months and failed to leave by a set date after committing to do so in writing two times. UPDATE: Austin told Curbed DC that due to property destruction and "aggressive behavior," the rent was paid in simple escrow to ensure that no additional damage was done to his and Lee's property. [UPDATE: According to Levy, there was a single incident where he left Lee's construction table out in the rain, which was an accident. Levy believes that by Jay bringing up this 'property destruction', he is attempting to slander him.] Due to a full-time job, construction for Pera's home took longer than desired, causing Levy to ask her to leave as well. [UPDATE: According to Levy, Lee's full-time job did not cause the contractors to stop working on the home.] When Levy asked Pera to move out by September 2014, though, Pera asked for more time due to a contract she had signed with a theater company to host plays in the community through mid-October. [UPDATE: According to Levy, he was the one who signed the contract with the theater company and was the first and only point of contact with the theater company.] By November, Levy had Parking Enforcement ticket the tiny home as an abandoned vehicle and threatened to have it impounded. According to Pera and Austin, Levy also called the police, describing Austin as "an intruder." Austin and Pera wrote that the police "reminded [Levy] that this was a not a good use of their time," but Levy wrote that the incident ended in Austin being fined $500 for illegally parking on private property by the MPD 5th District.

"Lee and Jay seemed to believe they were entitled to ownership of the property after making minimal payments ($150/month) to partly cover utilities, insurance payments, and a fraction (20%, not 2/3) of the interest [I] was paying on $80K of personal loans to fully underwrite the project." - Brian LevyBefore leaving the property, Levy wrote that Pera and Austin made "completely unfounded" demands for money in August 2014. Pera told Curbed DC, though, that "We didn't want money; however, what we did want was for him to properly serve us a 30-day notice." After two months, a settlement was offered with $1,000 to cover moving costs and five $150 monthly payments for parking on the lot. While Levy described the offer as "generous," he wrote that the two refused it, requesting the dropping of an anti-defamation clause, three times the money, and more time to move out. Levy claimed private conversations were secretly recorded, personal emails were intercepted and deleted, and various threats were made by Pera and Austin to go to the press to slander him.

While in the Micro Showcase FAQ, Levy wished them well, adding that "the foolishness [is] completely forgiven," Lee and Pera don't believe that any of what happened should be forgotten. As they rebuild the Boneyard Studios community in the coming weeks, they promise on their website to reveal more about what happened to cause the community to meet its end in order to inform others wishing to build a tiny-home community about their "lessons learned."