Is living in a treehouse wrong? Florida woman ordered to leave hers

Shawnee Chasser has lived in her Miami treehouse for the past decade. Officials say now is the time to go.

Lynne Sladky/AP
Shawnee Chasser holds her pet raccoon, Mary J. Blige, outside of her treehouse in Miami. Miami-Dade County code inspectors discovered the treehouse, declared it unfit for human habitation and ordered it torn down. Chasser lives there with her dogs, cats, and raccoon.

A Florida woman who has spent the last decade living in a treehouse will fight for the right to remain there after inspectors declared it unfit for living.

The battle between the woman and local officials is one of free will against local regulations that dictate how community members can use their privately-owned property. Inspectors say the treehouse’s structure doesn’t constitute safe or legal living conditions, while others argue that individuals should be able to live in unconventional homes that don’t affect others in the neighborhood if they so choose.

Sixty-five-year-old Shawnee Chasser built her treehouse just outside of downtown Miami. A once Vietnam War protestor, Ms. Chasser says she hates the thought of living indoors and instead opts for the open air allotted by her unconventional home. With plumbing, electricity, and two stories of living space, the treehouse seems to have all the comforts of a tradition home, without the walls.

“I’m not leaving,” Chasser told the Associated Press. “I haven’t slept indoors in 25 years. It’s just who I am.”

But Miami-Dade County inspectors say faulty electric and plumbing work, as well as substandard construction, make the home dangerous. Without mandated upgrades in place to meet county codes, officials could have the structure torn down.

Property experts called the county’s stance harsh, arguing that they have served Chasser with code violations that have little to do with maintaining her safety on the private property and will only obstruct her preferred way of living.

“Shawnee’s treehouse is a peaceful, harmless structure that hurts nobody,” Ari Bargil, who works for the nonprofit Institute for Justice law firm that advocates for private property rights and is looking into Chasser’s case, told the AP. “The county’s only concern should be whether her treehouse is safe. Instead, they are imposing an ill-fitting regulatory framework on her, and thus essentially fining her for being different.”

Chasser’s late son built the structure for her on his property around 10 years ago when she was living in a different treehouse on her brother’s property. Since her son’s death in 2009, Chasser has rented the main house on the land and opened the property up for campers. About a year ago, a former tenant issued a complaint with county inspectors regarding the campers. When inspectors arrived on the property, they levied other violation fines on Chasser.

Even if the treehouse was renovated to meet building codes, the property zoning law only allows for single-family homes, creating another obstacle she’d have to overcome to keep her home.

Despite the legal battle ahead of her, Chasser said that she can’t imagine living any other way and won’t give up easily.

“I don’t want them telling me what my happiness is because I don’t fit in one of their boxes,” she said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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