MIAMI, Florida — A Miami woman is battling the local government to save the popular treehouse where she has lived for 10 years.
Shawnee Chasser lives in a two-story open-air treehouse — on a lot near Miami’s Biscayne Gardens neighborhood — that features such amenities as running water, a stove, a refrigerator, a computer and a TV, but code inspectors with Miami-Dade County want it torn down, saying it was constructed illegally and is unsafe.
Prior to her current treehouse, she lived in one for 15 years at another location in the area.
“Every visit from Code Enforcement and the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, has been scary for me,” Chasser wrote on her GoFundMe page. “They both add about five new fines, each time they come.”
The battle between Chasser and the local government has received local media attention for several weeks but is now making national headlines. Before it’s over, she could face $10,000 in fines.
“Shawnee’s treehouse is a peaceful, harmless structure that hurts nobody,” Ari Bargil, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, told CBS News. “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.”
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The grandmother, a self-described hippie, went unnoticed until a year ago, when a former tenant reported her to code inspectors. She owns a cottage on the property that she rents out – an apparent violation. Her land is about half an acre of woods.
Chasser has slept in a tree since 1992, when she discovered she was uncomfortable sleeping indoors with air conditioning. She first lived in a treehouse in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami before moving to one on her son’s property. After Chasser’s son died in 2009, she inherited the property.
“I’m not leaving,” Chasser told CBS Miami. “I haven’t slept indoors in 25 years. It’s just who I am. I don’t want them telling me what my happiness is because I don’t fit in one of their boxes.”
Local government officials, though, don’t seem ready to back down.
“They’re creating a campground out there. 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,” code enforcement division director Ricardo Roig told The Miami Herald. “It’s just a combination of situations that haven’t been well thought out.”
Chasser sells Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn through her website and through Whole Foods stores in Florida.
“I’m not taking down anything,” Chasser told The Herald. “I’ll chain myself to that treehouse.”
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