A Florida woman who has been living in a tree house for nearly 25 years is being asked to demolish her home.
Shawnee Chasser, 65, has been living in a wood cottage in the front yard of her late son's Biscayne Gardens home for more than two decades, the Daily Mail reported. Now, Dade County officials say the tree house was built illegally, and is looking to demolish it within the next four months, citing safety issues.
“I’m not taking down anything,” Chasser, who once marched from California to D.C. to protest nuclear arms, told the Miami Herald. “I’ll chain myself to that tree house.”
Chasser has been sleeping in tree houses since 1992. She first lived in a tree house on Earth N’ Us farm in Little Haiti that was built by her brother. She later moved to her son’s home near North Miami, where she had another tree house built.
But this was no ordinary tree house.
Chasser had curved wooden steps leading around the trees to a second story, where she could fit a double bed. She had a kitchen, mini oven, sink and a living room with a Home Depot ceiling fan.
The tree house was adorned with family pictures. It had a bookshelf, a small couch and even a pet raccoon named “Coonie” who would occasionally visit.
For Chasser, there is no better way to live.
“When I am up in my tree house in thunder, lightning and rain, I am in heaven,” Chasser said. “There’s nothing nicer, more spiritual, more wonderful.”
But in September 2015, someone filed a complaint claiming that Chasser was running the property like an apartment complex and campground in the middle of a single-family neighborhood. Chasser would rent out rooms to tenants and space for campers to set up tents in the property to help pay bills.
Chasser was also issued a citation for illegally running a rooming house and for work done on the property without permits. The renovations included a man-made pond, fountain, a chickee hut and the tree house.
“This has got to be my first time ever of somebody living in a tree house,” said Ricardo Roig, Miami-Dade’s code enforcement division director.
Roig said the issue is that Chasser’s tree house in unsafe. South Florida has strict building codes, which require running water and electricity to be installed with permits and inspections.
Roig added that code and unsafe-structure inspectors looked at the tree house and said it was constructed in a way that makes it impossible to bring up to county standards. The county’s unsafe structures board agreed and gave Chasser three months to demolish the tree house.
“They’re creating a campground out there,” Roig explained. “You just can’t go into a residential property and start charging outsiders to come in. We’ve got neighbors who we’ve got to protect their rights also. It’s just a combination of situations that haven’t been well thought out.”
Chasser, who has already paid $3,000 in fines and could face over $7,000 more in charges, is not giving up. She plans to appeal the board’s decision and request for additional hearings.