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This California Man Researched the City Code Before Building a 'Dream' Treehouse. The City Is Screwing Him Anyway.

Not only did Brian Esola make sure he wasn't violating the city code, he also checked with his neighbors beforehand.

Jose Luis Villegas/TNS/NewscomJose Luis Villegas/TNS/NewscomBefore fulfilling his longtime "dream" of building a backyard treehouse for his four children, California man Brian Esola says he made sure to do his "homework." But the city is giving him problems anyway.

"Always kind of been a dream of mine to build a treehouse for my kids, so I did," Esola, a resident of Folsom, California, told KOVR.

First, Esola researched any relevant city ordinances to see if he needed a permit. He didn't think he did. He refrained from installing electricity or plumbing, knowing that would be in violation of the city code. Esola also made sure he was using the correct materials to guarantee his children's safety and prevent the treehouse from impeding the growth of nearby trees. "I did my homework," he told The Sacramento Bee. "It's not like I just threw this thing up."

He also says he ran the idea by his neighbors. They had no issues, so he started building.

The result? A thing of beauty. The two-story structure, suspended between two trees, is painted navy blue, with a red door and plenty of windows. Inside the structure, there's furniture, school supplies, and even a mini-basketball hoop. It's a perfect space for his kids to "hang out or have sleepovers with their friends," Esola told ABC News.

But not everyone was pleased. Several months after the treehouse was finished, the city received an anonymous tip that the structure was in violation of Folsom coding regulations. There were several problems, which the city specified in a statement to KOVR: "Accessory buildings must be at least five feet from the property line and eight feet from the home, and no more than fifteen feet tall."

Esola's treehouse, though, is roughly 21 feet tall. And it's "very close" to the property line, Folsom city manager spokesperson Christine Brainerd told the Bee. Esola also failed to get the city's permission before attaching the treehouse to a sound wall.

So if Esola did his research, why couldn't he foresee the code violations? He says he knew about the regulations for "accessory" structures, but thought they only applied to structures like sheds and playhouses. The city code doesn't say anything about treehouses.

At first, Esola was given an ultimatum: either move the treehouse or simply get rid of it. Neither of those options seemed particularly attractive. He wasn't about to abandon something he'd put so much time and money into, and relocating it would just mean additional hassle.

Esola came up with a unique idea: the city should add new ordinances that specifically deal with treehouses. That way, Esola could keep his treehouse, and the problem wouldn't arise again in the future. He presented his idea Tuesday night before the Folsom City Council. But while members of the council said they understood where he was coming from, they declined to do what he asked.

It would be "politically difficult" to come up with new regulations that only apply to treehouses, council member Andy Morin said. Despite a nearly two-hour-long debate on treehouses, the council decided that Esola must either change the structure so it complies with code, or else take it down.

Esola's case is just one example of local governments' war on treehouses. In January, a Florida couple was found to have built a treehouse on their own property without the proper permit. They were fined $50 per day until the structure came down. And in 2013, a zoning board ordered a Pennsylvania father to take down a partially constructed treehouse that he was making for his daughter's birthday.

Bonus link: Here's how to save your treehouse from a zoning board:

Photo Credit: Jose Luis Villegas/TNS/Newscom

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  • Eddy||

    It's in Folsom? Maybe he could just check into the local prison so that he won't be under any illusions that he has any freedom.

  • Anomalous||

    Is there a prison nearby?

  • Eddy||

    Unless there's another Folsom in California:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folsom,_California

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Folsom prison along with san quentin are the two oldest prisons in California and the some of the oldest in the USA that are still operating.

  • Dillinger||

    continuing the missing sarcasm trend, Johnny Cash wrote a song about it.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    What's sarcasm and who's this Johnny Cash you speak of?

  • Dillinger||

    guy on poster, middle finger extended.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    :)

  • MikeP2||

    This is nonsense. He knew the code restricted size and location of "accessory" structures, but just went ahead and assumed this didn't apply to a treehouse larger than most sheds. And, he attached to a wall, which raises all sorts of engineering issues with the existing home structure.

    Complain about zoning regs all you want, but this is in no way a "war on treehouses". It gives all the appearances of someone trying to weasel around codes, getting caught, then creating a sob-story about how they are a victim.

  • operagost||

    Agreed. Although I find the 5 foot minimum to be far too strict, critiquing the ordinances that the homeowner skirted is off topic.

  • Eddy||

    Obviously he should have consulted an attorney with experience in such matters, who could have a chat with some of the code people to see if everything was OK and what changes to his plans, what formalities, what fees, etc. would be good..

    But at least he talked to his neighbors (so he says), and since complaints from neighbors are a big source of these zoning complaints, he did that one thing right.

  • Ron||

    instead of an attorney he could have talked to a knowledgeable architect or designer to guide him through the process. I had a client that wanted a tree house and explained the complications and cost they didn't like what I said so they went ahead and then code enforcement told them to take it down. so many people won't listen to professionals even when they hire them.

  • Magnitogorsk||

    A quick phone call to his local government office could have confirmed that his 21 foot multi-story structure indeed counted as an "accessory building". No lawyers or engineers required.

  • Magnitogorsk||

    A quick phone call to his local government office could have confirmed that his 21 foot multi-story structure indeed counted as an "accessory building". No lawyers or engineers required.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    A phone call is not evidence in court. You need a notary

  • Libertymike||

    Who in their right mind would want to move to California, where it is so dirty, grimy, and full of feces and homeless leeches and progressive busybodies?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    People who think Commifornia operates via Rule of Law and not Rule of Man?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Is it Hitler?

  • sarcasmic||

    He did his homework, but he didn't ask permission. Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders. Ask permission or tear it down. Obey or die. Land of the free to do as you're told.

  • Fairbanks||

    Sounds like he didn't do his homework. He didn't find out what "accessory structures" means.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Accessory structures" means whatever the enforcer says it means. Had he asked permission first it probably wouldn't have included tree houses. But since he didn't ask it does.

  • Fairbanks||

    Your very speculative assumptions as to what would have happened had he done his homework doesn't change the fact that he didn't do his homework, as you asserted.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its not the land the absolutely free and never has been.

    Commifornia even less free than many states.

  • sarcasmic||

    Freedom is slavery. I know.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    To Anarchists like you, even limited a Constitutional Democratic Republic is absolute slavery.

  • Tony||

    Have you ever been more than 10 miles outside of Duckfuck Alabama or wherever it is you have your roadkill roasting pit and AM radio set up?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Who uses AM radios?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU NEED A PERMIT, YOU ALWAYS NEED A PERMIT.

  • Ron||

    Exactly. in our community you can have non-permited sheds but you have to have a non permit permit to have the non permitted shed.

    its actually a legal document in case a neighbor complains then the city can say we know about it and its legal.

  • Agammamon||

    Christ, people might think that's a joke - but its not. Here in Yuma county you also need a permit for un-permitted structures. Its to 'prevent confusion'.

  • Magnitogorsk||

    I'm building a house right now so upon seeing his headline I was ready to get hot and bothered about burdensome local government building codes....but this guy has no one to blame but himself. I guarantee he understood he couldn't build this treehouse where he wanted, but thought if he went ahead and did it he could just ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

  • Zeb||

    Be that as it may, I still find it pretty bothersome. It's his property. He should be able to do what he wants. Especially if his neighbors are OK with it. If he fucks it up and ruins his property, he'll pay for it when he sells it.

  • sarcasmic||

    A few years ago my father was putting an addition onto his house. When he bought the place there was a nice greenhouse out back, complete with a wood stove, humidity control, and all kinds of stuff to add a month or two to the short Rocky Mountain growing season.

    Well, the guy who originally had the greenhouse build didn't ask permission first.

    So before my dad could get permission to build the addition, he had to tear down the greenhouse. Being that it would cost more than ten grand to replace it, he didn't bother.

    Now he doesn't have a garden. But at least he's free to ask permission and obey orders.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Dont live in cities with strict building codes or get popular support to have strict building codes rolled back.

    Its like some people dont understand how a Constitutional Democratic Republic works.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Some people. Like elected officials.

  • Agammamon||

    I know, right. I mean, whatever the majority wants is what the majority gets - even if what they want is to take all your shit.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Under the Constitution, if it was followed more strictly by the minority when they have power, the majority would not get nearly what it does.

  • EscherEnigma||

    On principle, I'm in this guy's corner. Unless someone is in a HOA, then they should generally be able to build whatever the fuck they want on their property, and the city should only care if they're hooking it up to utilities.

    That said...

    He says he knew about the regulations for "accessory" structures, but thought they only applied to structures like sheds and playhouses.


    Unless the city code uses some interesting definitions for "sheds" and "playhouses", this sure sounds like it would apply to a shed/playhouse on stilts.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Unless the city code uses some interesting definitions for "sheds" and "playhouses", this sure sounds like it would apply to a shed/playhouse on stilts.

    I reluctantly agree here. Had I been planning the tree house, if I saw the words "playhouses" in the ordinance, I would have assumed my tree house counted as such.

    I'm still blown away by the fact a regulator said it would be "hard to make rules" for tree houses. That doesn't even compute in my mind.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's not like I just threw this thing up."

    You know, like we did in the bad old days.

  • Agammamon||

    Yeah, but you remember the Treehouse Holocaust, right? Where tens of thousands of kids died in treehouse collapses and fires during the 1970's and 80's.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Of course I remember it, but we were free then. Most of those fires were started by kids smoking in their treehouses, which was their right. You see what freedom does to people?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Esola came up with a unique idea: the city should add new ordinances that specifically deal with treehouses.

    New rules, this always turns out well.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It would be "politically difficult" to come up with new regulations that only apply to treehouses, council member Andy Morin said.

    Wait the fuck a minute, is this the first time in human history that a legislator and regulator has uttered words indicating that rules can't be made?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Nope. They said "difficult", not "impossible".

    Which probably means "if we make an exception for you dude, everyone is going to want an exception, and we're not paid enough to deal with that."

  • Tony||

    "Your child neck-breaking device must be at least five feet from the property line."

  • Agammamon||

    'We're just worried that the bodies will drop onto or roll onto the public right-of-way.'

  • Ron||

    Just looking at the picture i see several life safety code violations besides the zoning violations

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    That ain't Navy blue. Navy blue is so dark it may as well be black to the distracted eye. I wore it for four years, bud. It ain't Navy blue.

  • Tony||

    Closer to cornflower.

  • IceTrey||

    "It must've been Tuesday. He was wearing his cornflower-blue tie."

  • IceTrey||

    "It must've been Tuesday. He was wearing his cornflower-blue tie."

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