A Florida entrepreneur with a penchant for the unconventional is having her entire life turned upside down by code enforcement officials who insist that her humble abode of 24 years isn’t fit for habitation, and thus must be torn down within the next three months.
Even though Shawnee Chasser has been living in her fully-equipped treehouse for decades without issue, this 65-year-old grandmother is learning firsthand what the government is capable of when given the authority to decide how people can use their own private property.
According to Miami-Dade County code enforcement division director Ricardo Roig, Chasser’s treehouse was built illegally and can’t be brought up to code. There is therefore no other option than to have it removed for safety reasons.
“This has got to be my first time ever of somebody living in a tree house,” he told The Miami Herald.
Chasser chose treehouse living after unexpected passing of son
Chasser decided to abandon living in a solid structure with four walls and a roof after experiencing life out in the open air. It started after her son died unexpectedly in 2009 of a heart attack in the home that sits on the same property as the treehouse, which Chasser’s daughter purchased through a land trust.
The California native decided to build the treehouse in-between the trunks of two trees, an oak and a strangler fig located in front of the house on a half-acre wooded lawn that features a man-made pond and a waterfall, and presumably her own backyard garden for fresh food. All of these features and the treehouse itself aren’t visible from the street.
But a disgruntled former tenant of a nearby property, Chasser says, apparently called the code enforcement office after learning that Chasser was also renting out both the house and the land in front of it to temporary tenants, as well as to folks passing through town who simply wanted to set up a tent on the property’s sprawling acreage.
When the city came out to inspect Chasser’s property they decided that the treehouse is unsafe and must be removed. They also ruled that the movement of tenants in and out of the property isn’t appropriate according to city standards, and must also cease.
“They’re creating a campground out there,” Roig added. “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 says she isn’t leaving her treehouse
But Chasser is resistant to their demands, having told reporters that she isn’t going anywhere. She’s been living in the treehouse for far too long and it’s her sanctuary, complete with its own kitchenette, full-size bed and lounge area for her and her pet raccoon “Coonie,” who enjoys the space every bit as much as Chasser.
“When I am up in my tree house in thunder, lightning and rain, I am in heaven,” she swooned. “There’s nothing nicer, more spiritual, more wonderful … I’m not taking down anything. I’ll chain myself to that tree.”
Despite her successful business selling organic popcorn at Whole Foods Market stores throughout Florida, Chasser is struggling to keep up on her bills, especially with the city slapping her with $3,000 in fines and more than $7,000 in liens against her property. But she isn’t giving up, insisting that because of a certain marketing claim on her popcorn – that she lives in a treehouse – she has no choice but to honor her customers.