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This Woman’s Ongoing Fight for the Right to Live in a Treehouse

Her dream is a zoning commissioner’s nightmare.

For 25 years, Shawnee Chasser has lived in a series of dream houses. They were not designed by fancy architects, and they’ve been small, but they had one very important feature. Since the early ’90s, Chasser has only lived in treehouses.

Now, as the Miami Herald reports, she may have to move.

Chasser’s first treehouse was on Miami’s Earth n Us farm, which belongs to her brother, Ray. After Chasser decided she didn’t want to live within four traditional walls anymore, her brother built a treehouse for her, which grew to become the farm’s “legendary three-story, 24-foot Treehouse.” (You can rent a room there, via Airbnb, if you like.) Later, Chasser moved onto property that belonged to her son, who died of a heart attack in 2009. The treehouse here is two stories—one planted solidly on the ground and a second story bedroom up in the tree. 

From this abode, which Chasser calls Shawnee’s Paradise, she rented out space on the property, via services like Airbnb and Craigslist. It’s an unusual set-up for a property in this area, and eventually someone—Chasser thinks it was someone who had stayed on the property, but it could also have been a neighbor—complained to authorities.

The city now says the treehouse does not conform to zoning codes and its electricity and plumbing lack the proper permitting. Chasser is trying to raise money to cover the fines, lawyer’s fees, and costs of renovations, in order to stay in her treehouse. 

City zoning codes are often unfriendly to less traditional construction; people living in tiny houses often have to keep them on wheels because zoning codes don’t conscience such small structures as permanent homes. If living in a treehouse is your dream (and shouldn’t it be?), consider sorting out the legal and permitting tangles on the front end.