A Babylon Village father who built a tree house for his son is being told he must make it legal or tear it down.
John Lepper, 45, said he started building a tree house on May 3 for his son Bayden’s sixth birthday in July.
“I didn’t think a permit would be required, but I didn’t look into it,” he said.
Lepper started with a platform in the large pine tree in his side yard, and a week later received a letter from the village stating that he might need a building permit. He was later told he needed a survey and architectural drawings, which would have cost him more than $1,000, he said.
Instead Lepper submitted his own drawing and a survey from 2012 when he bought his house. Lepper — an FDNY firefighter who said he worked as a contractor and went to drafting school — said a building department secretary told him the documents were sufficient.
With his son’s birthday approaching, he continued building. On July 19 he received three daily summonses for building without a permit and was later told he might also need a setback variance, Lepper said. In August, building inspector Stephen Fellman reported seeing further work done on the tree house and lights put on it.
Lepper said he doesn't think a permit is needed because the 86-square-foot structure falls under a section of code allowing playgrounds or gyms of less than 90 square feet. However, Village Justice John Rafter last month found Lepper guilty and fined him $475, which Lepper paid on Nov. 5. He’s due in court Tuesday to face allegations of additional violations.
Village attorney Gerard Glass said if Lepper wants to keep the tree house, he has to submit the proper materials to complete the building permit application and can't use it.
“He’s been given every opportunity to apply,” Glass said. “He’s got to go through the process like anyone else building a structure on their property.”
Lepper said he will not take down the tree house and does not think he should have to pay for the drawings and survey.
“This is what they want to spend time fighting, a tree house?” he asked. “They don’t have anything better to do?”
Lepper said he has the support of neighbors, but Glass said the village had received “a number” of complaints.
“This is not the little tree house you remember from your childhood,” Glass said. “This is literally like putting a small studio apartment in the sky abutting the property line.”
Once the village is “put on notice” about something, Glass said, it becomes liable for injuries, like a child falling.
Lepper said he will consider completing the application “if it’s necessary” but is looking into other options. He also could appeal the ruling, but that would mean hiring an attorney and going to a Brooklyn court to do so, something he said isn’t feasible.
“I have to think, is it worth the stress and aggravation to me and my family,” he said. “But if I'm right, what am I teaching my kids if I take it down just because they said so?”