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Babylon man fined for backyard treehouse sues village

John Lepper says his 86-square-foot treehouse is legal. The village says he needs a building permit for it because of its size.

John Lepper, of Babylon Village, built a treehouse in his backyard for his son's birthday. On Nov. 5, he discussed problems he has had with the village over the structure, which he has been ordered to take down. (Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz)

A federal judge issued an injunction Monday against the Village of Babylon, preventing it from further fining a man who built an illegal treehouse in his yard while the matter plays out in court.

The treehouse that John Lepper began building for his 6-year-old son, Bayden, last summer has been the subject of hundreds of dollars in fines, court appearances, and now, a civil suit that he filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The suit claims the village, the mayor, his secretary, each of the four trustees, the building inspector, a member of the planning board and the village’s attorney were “punishing” Lepper and pursuing “personal animosity in violation of [Lepper’s] civil and constitutional rights.”

Village Justice John Rafter fined Lepper $475 on Oct. 17, for building the treehouse, categorized as a building, without a building permit.

Lepper has appealed, saying his 86-square-foot treehouse is legal, because the village code states a playground or gym of less than 90 square feet doesn’t need a permit.

While an architect and Google engineer offered their services to file a completed building permit application, Lepper won’t take it.

“I know that I’m right,” he said. “We’re not asking for anything other than to be left alone.”

The village’s attorney, Gerard Glass, noted another homeowner in the village got a building permit and constructed a treehouse within the last two years.

Monday’s lawsuit states the defendants acted to “silence Mr. Lepper’s complaints about the used hypodermic needles on his property and the concern for safety within the Village of Babylon.”

Lepper’s attorney Cory Morris said, “We want to know why they targeted this family. He voiced his concerns, he reported a crime.”

Lepper said he found a needle in his yard and told his neighbors about it, but he didn’t report it to the village. He said he started building the treehouse afterward to provide a safe place for his children to play. 

“I didn’t go to anybody, notifying anybody of anything,” he said.

He mentioned the needle in court after he was fined.

Neither Glass, nor Mayor Ralph Scordino, both defendants in the suit, would comment but said the village would get another attorney to handle the case. Lepper is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

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