Grandma Living in Treehouse Got Kicked Out
If I told you that my lifelong dream is to live in a treehouse, you’d probably think one of three things about me: I’m a little crazy, I’m ten years old with an overactive imagination, or I’m a Keebler elf hiding away from the rest of the world while I bake cookies all day.
And you’d be right! Well, at least about one of them. I’ll let you decide which.
It takes a special kind of soul to live your life in a treehouse — just you and the Florida elements. The kind of soul that Shawnee Chasser possesses which can only be found in Miami-Dade County of course!
The Woman Who Lived in a Tree
When this story hit the internet in 2016, Chasser was a 65-year-old grandmother with blue hair who had been living in a treehouse on her deceased son’s Miami-Dade County lot for the past ten (some reports say 25) years. To help ends meet, she sold her own brand of organic popcorn at Whole Foods call Green Thumb Popcorn, and rented out the main house and accompanying grounds to weary travelers.
If you ever built a treehouse as a kid (or are a fellow Keebler elf!), then you probably think you know what this home looked like. Chances are you’re wrong!
Chasser’s open-air chateau was not without basic amenities; electricity and running water provided her with everything she needed to live happily outdoors.
Everything, that is, except the proper building permits and a structure built to safety codes.
The county instructed her to tear down the treehouse. When she refused, she was issued $3,000 worth of fines and threatened with more than $7,000 worth in additional liens.
Was all of this because someone called 311 to complain about a treehouse? Well, in addition to the aerial abode, the call included the complaint that Chasser was running the property like an apartment complex and campground in the middle of a single-family neighborhood.
As you can expect, Chasser was surprised by the whole thing. It’s not like she was hiding anything from the county. Her Miami treehouse had always been treated like a landmark and was included in official marketing material from the county’s tourism bureau. It was featured on tiny home websites and shows such as Tiny House Giant Journey. It even survived Hurricane Andrew, which is no small feat.
Is It Illegal to Live in a Tree House in Florida?
Not at all! Anyone, even you, can choose to live with a front-row view of Florida’s nature — and no glass window separating you from the mosquitos. The problem wasn’t that the house was in a tree. It all came down to how the structure got there in the first place, and whether it was deemed safe by an inspector. Hint: It wasn’t.
Ricardo Roig, Miami-Dade’s code enforcement division director and a 26-year county employee at the time, had this to say about the treehouse:
The county’s issue with Chasser’s abode isn’t specifically that she lives there, but that it’s unsafe.
Roig said South Florida has strict rules about building code due to the frequency of hurricanes. Additionally, running water and electricity must be installed with permits and inspections. He said Chasser is welcome to live in a legal treehouse, but code and unsafe-structure inspectors looked at the cottage and found it was constructed in a way that couldn’t be brought up to county standards. The county’s unsafe structures board agreed and gave her three months to tear the treehouse down.
If You’re Dying to Know What Happens Next, I Have Bad News
At this point, the story starts to get a little fuzzy.
Chasser hired a lawyer to fight the county’s teardown notice, and the legal back and forth lasted for another year or more. During that time a GoFundMe account was created, titled “Save Shawnees’s Treehome.” Despite the fact that her story had been carried in major national news outlets, Chasser’s failed fundraising effort was terminated after raising only $240.
Local news station 10 WPLG posted the story on YouTube in 2018 (see video below) and ended their coverage by vowing to stay on top of the story as it developed, although it felt like the story was actually filmed prior to 2018.
And then nothing.
Where Does the Trail Lead?
You know I find a story interesting when I tell you that I read the first four pages of Google results looking for a definitive outcome. That’s Google’s top 40 results, each pointing to the original 2016 story without so much as a simple follow up.
I’ve scoured Shawnee Chasser’s social media accounts for any mention of the treehouse or recent activity. Other than a couple of Facebook pictures from September 2017 that appear to show a tree lying on the ground, I’ve been unable to locate anything new.
Engulfed in burning curiosity, I reached out directly to Shawnee Chasser and the WPLG reporter who covered the story, looking for an update of any sort. I’m still waiting. Was there a legal settlement that prohibits Chasser from commenting publicly about the incident? Maybe. We may never know.
But we do know that the address for Green Thumb Popcorn is not the same address that was listed for the treehouse, and their packaging was updated. Chasser had once stated that she couldn’t move from the treehouse because her popcorn packaging is branded as coming from someone living in a tree, and she didn’t want to falsely advertise.
It sure seems like Shawnee Chasser’s dream home in the trees finally met with a county employee’s axe.
To all of the free spirits out there who would rather sleep under the stars than within the safe confines of four walls, I envy you. Keep doing what makes you happy.
Just, please, make sure you have a legal building permit.