Building Permits and Constructing Tree Houses

When building tree houses, you should seriously consider the pros and cons of getting a building permit. For commercial tree houses, you really must get the permit, but if you are building a residential tree house on your property, then you might choose not to. You should, however, be aware that dozens of well publicized battles between tree house owners and their local building department officials have ended with mixed results. Sometimes the authorities force tree house owners to tear down their beloved custom tree houses and pay fines. Other times, the tree houses have remained when variances are successfully filed. However, even in the later case, the legal expenses and time spent defending the tree house can be significant.

The first step is to call your township and ask if a permit is necessary. In the hundreds of townships we have called, some of them never require permits for kids tree houses, while some always do. But the vast majority of townships answer that it depends. They may have a list of questions like, “Is the tree house over 100 square feet in floor space,” “Is any part of the tree house more than 15′ high,” “is the tree house less than 20′ from your property line” “Does the tree house have electricity,” etc… Be prepared to either adjust your plans to keep them within the non-permit limits or to follow through with submitting plans, paying fees, and getting official approval to build your tree house.

Reasons for Getting a Building Permit

Here are some reasons to get a building permit prior to constructing tree houses:

  • Little risk of your tree house getting a stop work or tear down order from the township in the future.
  • The Township will require that your tree house construction methods comply with generally accepted building practices; you may not even know you are using unsafe tree house building methods – this is for your safety!
  • You have bad relationships with neighbors who will either see the tree house construction or otherwise will know that you are building a tree house, and you suspect that they will report you just because they can.
  • You would rather be on the right side of the law, no matter what.

Here are some reasons to skip the permit when building tree houses:

  • Townships charge a fee to issue building permits for tree houses.
  • In order to get a permit, you may have to produce engineer-stamped tree house construction building prints at your expense.
  • Inspections for tree houses may involve delays or extra fees or they may force you to change things that you don’t want to and don’t feel are important.
  • You feel that your yard is large and secluded so that few if any people will see or hear you building the tree house, so you just want to build it under the radar.
  • You fear that your township might not allow tree houses, but you want one anyway and believe you should have the right to do what you want on your property.
  • You believe that it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

If you want to build your custom tree house without a building permit, we strongly suggest talking with your neighbors or anybody who will have a clear view of the tree house from their home or yard. While you may not feel like you have to ask permission, if they will see the tree house, then you want them to know about it before you start building. In probably over 90% of the times when a tree house is “discovered” by a building department, it is due to a neighbor calling the township to report it.

The township will come to your door and tell you to stop work on the tree house, or eventually even to tear it down. They will probably not even tell you which neighbor called to complain about the tree house. Talking with neighbors ahead of time about your tree house construction plans will save you the expense and hassle. During the tree house site selection process, some people have said to us that they want to put the tree house on some back or side portion of their properties so that they don’t put a large structure up in the center of their yard where they always see it. Perhaps they want it to feel secluded or like a part of their yard rather than the major focal point. What they don’t usually consider is that moving the tree house to the edge of their property means that they are making it a focal point of their neighbor’s yard as well.  Sometimes people have wanted to build the treehouse where their neighbors will see it better than they will. Our advice is to simply think about how you would feel if your neighbors built a custom tree house with a clear view over your pool’s privacy fence or on an equal level with your 2nd floor master bedroom suite. Use common courtesy and ask what they think first.

We tell prospective tree house clients over and over but few of them do it. Trust us. It is definitely worth it. Sometimes you can come to an agreement ahead of time like planting some evergreens in between your proposed tree house and their pool or kitchen window, to protect their privacy and prevent them from calling the township to report you. While skipping the permit may sound risky, probably only 1% of all tree houses built are permitted structures. We just want you to have enough information about the pros and cons before you decide whether or not to ask us to get a building permit for your tree house.

Tree Top Builders and the Tree House Construction Process

If you decide to get a permit for your custom tree house, then Tree Top Builders will take care of the whole process for you from contacting the township, learning what their rules for tree house accessories and tree house construction are, and handling tree house inspections and following through until the tree house is approved and received use & occupancy. We don’t do this often for tree houses, but we are familiar with the process because we used to build custom ground houses and additions before Tree Top Builders was born in 2003. We’ll make the tree house approval process easy for you.

If you still have questions on the process for building tree houses, contact Tree Top Builders or visit our FAQ page for more information on tree houses.

Need even more information? Tree Top Builders offers consulting services for building tree houses and we also schedule tree house workshops where you can gain hands-on experience for constructing tree houses.