Continuing from previous article… Upon receipt of the “Warning” letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) at the end of 2011, the city deferred the issue of our tree house permit or exemption to the state agency. I pulled the cited Florida Statute Chapter 161-Beach and Shore Preservation and related Administrative Codes 62B-33 on coastal construction laws to read. They are over 70 pages long and require legal interpretation to respond to the issue of after-the-fact permit, exemption or voluntary demolition.
My husband and I informed both the City and FDEP that should a permit is required after the fact, we would be happy to do so. We had expected to do a permit application before constructing the tree house but the building official said “no permit is required”. We assumed that the building officials were trained in both city and state laws, had the authority, and would provide information and application forms as appropriate. We had no basis to challenge the city building official determination of “no permit” back then.
But a few critics said that it is idiotic, naive, and unbelievable for us to believe that “no permit is required”. Some said we found a loop-hole. Some believed that if the “No Permit” statement is in writing then there should be no problem. But as the city said recently in its response to the higher court, it doesn’t matter if the statement is written or oral. If the determination is in error, we alone will suffer.
Some said we should know the laws and should contact FDEP before we built without a permit. Ignorance is not an excuse! The city attorney said we could search the internet for building codes and structure. Try to do that and you get hundreds of pages that take months to decipher. Which one is applicable to a tree house that is not a real house? Which laws are current and which ones take precedent? That is if you can first understand the various acronyms and definitions, as the words use don’t always mean what you think it means from one book to another.
While waiting for our attorney’s evaluation, numerous opinions and advices from well-meaning builders and concerned tree house fans poured in. Some said to remove the posts and have the tree house supported entirely by the tree for an exemption. Some said the posts are located within the span of the tree roots and branches, therefore it is on existing foundation of roots and should be grandfathered. Some said to remove the lower deck , just have one deck to make it look smaller. Some said to remove the windows. Many said leave it be, it is well built, a work of art and fit right into the island atmosphere.