City of San Jose: Family tree house built too high, violates city code

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A San Jose father is preparing to take on the City of San Jose after a code enforcement officer said the tree house built in the family's backyard was in violation of city code.

City leaders told ABC7 News it is not requesting Simon Lancaster to remove the structure, but they want him to lower the tree house so that it stands under 12-feet.

Currently, the Lancaster family tree house measures more than 18-feet from ground to roof. This measurement puts the structure a few feet taller than the 12-foot height limit allowed for accessory structures.

According to Cheryl Wessling with the City of San Jose's Planning, Building and Code Enforcement department, the term "accessory structure" is used to describe gazebos, fences or any small structure one might build in their own backyard.

However, tree houses are not specified in the city's municipal code.

"When the neighbor complained about the size of the tree house, and that it was overlooking their yard," Wessling explained. "Our code enforcement staff applied 'accessory structure' rules to that tree house."

Wessling explained that over the last several decades, the department received roughly 50 complaints about tree houses.

She said over the years, tree houses have become more elaborate. Wessling said this could be the case because of influence from television shows.

"We see them coming in a little bigger with roofs, sometimes with electrical wiring," she added. "That does kick in additional codes for how they should be built."

Lancaster told our partners at the Mercury News that he was only informed about any code violations after the tree house was completed by professionals.

"It's a tree house," neighbor, Sally Borello said. "Kids need places to play."

Borello lives a few doors down from the Lancaster. The long-time area resident pointed to the tree house that her kids built more than 20 years ago. When asked about the issue at hand, she asked, "Who doesn't want to play in a treehouse? You know, it's a little bit beyond my understanding."

Borello explained that time with her young kids quickly flew by -- one of the reasons she couldn't imagine having to spend it preparing to appeal city codes.

"Kids don't play in tree houses forever. They're not children forever," Borello said. "I think we need to respect that."

Lancaster said his appeal date hasn't been set.

Wessling with the City of San Jose said the department could soon consider more specific policies for tree houses.

For more on recent building code issues, visit this page.
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