Essential Treehouse Documents - Government Incompetence, Wrongdoing and Waste on Display

Bing and Ellen have filed a series of pro se (representing themselves) appeals to challenge DDOT permitting shenanigans.  Their appeals have been very unusual, since DC homeowners rarely take cases of official wrongdoing related to small construction projects to court, at least beyond the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) level.  At OAH, appeals are free and homeowners generally represent themselves.  Homeowners have trouble identifiying abuse of authority in permitting in the context of a zoning scheme that cannot be described as user-friendly to ordinary consumers, and can seldom pay counsel to challenge.  The result is that fighting back presents high hurdles.  

In the tree house case, court mediation has failed twice in the last two years, at OAH and the DC Court of Appeals.  Simply put, DDOT will not agree to let the tree house alone until the Yee girls have grown up enough to tire of playing in it - the parents have not pushed for damages to settle the matter.  Ellen and Bing filed a complaint in the US District Court of the District of Columbia under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFFA).  They filed only after DDOT rejected mediation at OAH in late 2017. 

If nothing changes, having made good progress in litigation, Bing and Ellen likely have several more years of it before them if they want the time for their girls to age out of their tree house.   The documents below are brimming with black humor for anybody pondering why statehood remains an elusive goal for the District of Columbia.  

18-00081 Surreply

A challenge to DDOT's amusing attempt to reinvent a permit condition related to staging construction sites and providing workers' parking into a requirement for a mythical but mandatory 2nd permit.

Meet the 7 Lawyers!

See the list of the 7 DDOT and Office of the DC AG attorneys who've been tasked with the destruction of the tree house since early 2016. Poor lawyers, they have real work to do, or should anyway.


Bing and Ellen file this detailed memo explaining why the tree house case belongs in US District Court. Legally, the case is about so much more than a little local zoning quarrel.


Ellen's letter inviting council members to the July 4th open house. The council has been hands-off officially, but perhaps not behind closed doors (a Ward 6 voter can always hope).


The Federal suit, pointing up deep-rooted DC administrative agency dysfunction in small-scale construction permitting. DDOT admits to mistakes, but conveniently denies all wrongdoing.


The family's 2017 appeal of a stop-work-order dating from Oct. 2015. The appeal points up consumer-hostile public space permitting practices. A 3-judge panel rejected DDOT's motion to dismiss.

Tree House Documents of Interest: 2015-2017

Tree House Plans, Presented to City Permitting Officials

The hand-sketched plan drawings the Psychas-Yees brought to the permitting center, leading them on a path to a mess of bureaucracy.

Ellen's Closed "Balcony" Public Space Construction Project Permit, #118910, 11/10/15

The building permit is described as "for 20" projection over rear yard lot boundary on children's play fort/tree house built over owner's street box." The City has never revoked the permit.

Neighbors' Tree House Tear-Down Petition, 1/11/2016

11 SE residents signed this "impact statement" euphemistically asking ANC 6B to "oppose the permit." Translation: tear up a closed construction permit. The group ceased campaigning in 2016.

Letter from ANC 6B to the PSC Regarding Tree House Permit, 12/12/15

In this letter, ANC 6B merely notes that DDOT issued the wrong type of projection permit to the family. Misleading press reports follow claiming that the ANC voted to get the tree house torn down.

The PSC's Strange Letter to the Psychas-Yees After the Decision, 1/28/2016

This unfathomable letter provides notification of the rejection of a permit renewal application the parents never submitted to build a fort that's stood for 5 months, no instructions to act included.

The Family's Petition for Rule-Making for DC Tree Houses

In February 2016, the Psychas-Yees submitted a detailed petition for tree house rule-making within the District of Columbia, pursuant to 2-505(b) of the DC Administrative Procedure Act. The petition was addressed to the directors of DCRA and DDOT, and the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning responsible for Historic Preservation.  In June, the Psychas-Yees received a two-line response from DDOT dismissing the petition.  The other two agencies--DCRA and HPO--failed to respond.   

Bing and Ellen submitted the petition to object to the fact that there is no category in the DC Code for the type of structure that they built, a roofless, 30 SQF play fort nine feet above the ground, and no system for Historic Preservation review of the play or tree house plans.  If you're a DC resident who likes tree houses for kids, consider helping address the DC tree house rules deficit by asking your city council member to push for the creation of a family-friendly legal framework for play forts and tree houses.   In recent years, tree house zoning rules have been included in municipal codes all around the country, including the suburban DC jurisdictions, like Fairfax and Montgomery County.  Tree house rules are with the times, given the fast- rising popularity of the structuers around the country in the past decade.  


Petition for Tree House Rule-Making to DDOT, DCRA and HPO

Aims of the Family's Petition for Tree House Rule-Making

1) To raise awareness on the part of the city permitting leadership of the dearth of clear rules and guidelines related to tree house building in the District.

2) To help other tree house buildikng families sidestep bureaucratic snarls in trying to secure permits to build legal tree houses, particularly in the DC Historic Districts.

3) To help desk officers at the DDOT (Transportation/Public Space Management), DCRA  (Zoning, Construction), and HPO (Historic Preservation) permitting desks know how to advise home owners and professional tree house builders who come in to city permitting centers seeking advice on planning tree house projects.  

4) To head off damaging neighborhood controversies, like the one they've encountered, that can develop before, during and after a DC family builds a tree house.