Shawnee Chasser, a 65-year-old grandmother, has been ordered to either make $150,000 worth of renovations or leave the treehouse home where she has lived and raised her children.
For 10 years, Chasser has lived in a treetop villa in North Miami, Florida, with her two cats, two dogs, and two raccoons, according to The Washington Post. The grandmother, whose brand of organic popcorn is distributed in Whole Foods across Florida, says she "hates the oppressive feeling of walls and air conditioning" and is too claustrophobic to live indoors.
Chasser's house sits on a land trust run by her daughter. Chasser previously rented out parts of the property to any campers or roommates who wished to share her simple life. The grounds, referred to as “Shawnee’s Paradise” by locals and on Facebook, also have a Native-style chickee house which Chasser used to rent on Airbnb.
In September 2015, the treehouse was inspected by Miami code enforcement after complaints that Chasser was running the property like an apartment complex and campground in the middle of a single-family neighborhood. Chasser suspects the call came from a single mother she previously housed on the property, who was evicted from the space after leaving her 3-year-old alone on the roof.
Miami-Dade County cited Chasser for illegally running a rooming house on the property and for work conducted without permits, including the electricity and plumbing that supply the treehouse. Ricardo Roig, Miami-Dade’s code enforcement division director, told the Miami Herald the county doesn’t take issue with Chasser living in a treehouse, but it needs to be up to code.
“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,” Roig said. “It’s just a combination of situations that haven’t been well thought out.”
Miami-Dade County has fined Chasser $3,000 so far, and may add $7,000 in additional liens. It has ordered her to make a number of costly renovations to bring her home up to code. Even after making necessary renovations, the county has said Chasser would still have to apply to the zoning department for permission to stay in the treehouse outside the main home she has leased out on the property.
“I would need $150,000 to make all the changes they want.” Chasser said, adding that she’s unable to afford the necessary changes to bring the home up to code. “I’ve literally been crying for a year, and I haven’t slept nights. It’s been really horrible,”
But Chasser hasn’t given up. A year after the original citations, the self-proclaimed "tree hugger" has started a GoFundMe page and hired a lawyer to help her fight the county’s ultimatum.
“I’m ready to fight for my home,” she said. “All I know is I’m not taking my treehouse down.”