Essential Tree House Documents: DC Government Incompetence, Wrongdoing and Waste on Display

Our legal appeals have been unusual, since DC homeowners seldom take cases of official wrongdoing related to small construction projects to court beyond the Office of Administrative Hearings level.  OAH appeals are free and often undertaken without counsel.  Ordinary homeowners tend to have difficulty identifiying abuse of authority in permitting in the context of a zoning scheme that isn't very user-friendly, and can seldom afford counsel to preserve small projects.  The result is that few home owners challenge when the City fails to respect closed permits covering five-figure projects.

In the tree house case, court-ordered 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 asked for damages to settle the matter.  Ellen and Bing filed a complaint in US District Court under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFFA), only after DDOT rejected mediation at OAH in 2017.  The lead OAH judge encouraged DDOT to settle the case. 

If nothing changes, having made good progress in litigation, the appeals could drag on for several more years.  The documents below are brimming with black humor for anybody pondering why statehood remains an elusive goal for the District of Columbia.  


Behold the list of the 7 City attorneys tasked by DDOT with the destruction of the tree house since early 2016. Poor lawyers, they must have real work to do in the public interest, or should anyway.

18-00081 Surreply

Our challenge to DDOT's silly 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.


We filed this detailed memo explaining why the Hill tree house case belongs in US District Court. DDOT officials dig in on dumb little local zoning quarrel, at taxpayers expense, because they can.


Ellen's letter inviting 8 council members to the '18 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. You can't make this stuff up. Dip into the interesting hacking part.


Our 2017 appeal of a stop-work-order dating from 2015, with DDOT as the Keystone Cops of permitting. A 3-jurist appellate panel rejects the agency's motion to dismiss the case.

Tree House Documents of Interest: 2015-2017

Tree House Plans, Presented to City Permitting Officials

The hand-sketched plan drawings we brought to the permitting center. Our homegrown kids fort is too basic to warrant this kind of attention.

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." Yes, owner's street box, DDOT's language.

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 construction permit that had already closed out right now.

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 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 petition for tree house rule-making pursuant to 2-505(b) of the DC Administrative Procedure Act. The petition was addressed to the heads of DCRA and DDOT, and the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning responsible for Historic Preservation.  The parents received a two-line response from DDOT dismissing the petition.  The other agencies--DCRA and HPO--failed to respond.  But tree houses are being built in the District, including in the DC Historic Districts. 

Bing and Ellen submitted the petition to object to the fact that there is no category in the DC Code for what they built, a roofless, 30 SQF play fort nine feet above the ground, and no system for Historic Preservation review of play or tree house plans.  If you're a DC resident wants to promote outdoor play, consider asking your city council member to support the creation of a family-friendly legal framework for kids forts.   In recent years, clear tree house zoning rules have been included in urban and suburban municipal codes all around the country, including in this Metro area, e.g. Fairfax and Montgomery County.  Tree house rules  run with the times, given the fast- rising popularity of these structures nationwide.  Witness the runaway success of the Tree House Masters show on Animal Planet and the rise of thousands of tree house AirBnBs. 


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.