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A House Is Not a Home, a Florida Town Says, If It's Built in a Tree

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Three years ago it was Lamar McLean’s hobby; today it is his passion—a $10,000 five-level tree house that he built in his parents’ front yard in Hialeah, Fla. Tucked in the branches of a 40-foot Ficus tree, McLean’s cabin in the sky is outfitted with wall-to-wall carpeting, a $3,000 stereo system, a telephone, two air conditioners, a television, a CB radio, a hammock for sleeping and flashing disco lights. “I’m happy here,” says the 19-year-old security guard. “I live rent-free—no insurance, no taxes, no one to tell me to turn off the TV or the stereo. My dates think it’s the best place in town.”

City officials, alas, disagree. Building inspectors say McLean’s lofty retreat is a fire hazard, and could easily tumble down in a hurricane. They have ordered him to remove it. McLean shrugs off neighbors’ objections to the tree house and vows to appeal the building department’s order. “They knew it was here three years ago,” he protests. “If they were going to make me tear it down, they should have done it before I put all this time and money into it.”

McLean lives in the tree full-time except for meals, when he joins his parents and two sisters below. Though he admits his rough-hewn aerie could use a new roof and another lick of paint on the outside, he insists that the structure is sound, if not burglarproof. His stereo was recently stolen, and McLean was arrested for smashing a car he thought belonged to the thief. “I’m staying out of trouble now,” he says. “There’s always something to do up here.” He hopes eventually to install a bathroom and an elevator. “I’ve put a lot of imagination into this,” he says plaintively, “and I don’t want to lose it. It’s art, really.”