Kenosha’s most unique rental property has been shut down.
A rustic, two-bedroom “treehouse” featuring a private outdoor shower, zipline, rock climbing wall and stunning Lake Michigan views was available on Airbnb, an online rental company offering short-term lodging in residential properties.
The three-story unit is located in the Allendale neighborhood at 6541 Fifth Ave., and owned by Kenosha residents Stuart and Alina Swanson.
For roughly $100 per night, visitors booked backyard stays at the Swanson residence.
While the unit garnered five-star reviews from many visitors, it wasn’t warmly received by city officials. The “treehouse” is considered an accessory structure subject to numerous city building codes and permits.
A treehouse built in a tree, with no connection to the ground or foundation, does not require a permit.
“The owners were referring to it as a treehouse,” said Brian Wilke, the development coordinator with the city’s Department of Community Development and Inspections. “It’s anchored into the ground, and it’s not in a tree or even touching a tree. It’s a playhouse or what we refer to as an accessory structure.”
Accessory structures built in a residential district must follow the city’s zoning ordinance. The structure cannot exceed the height of the principal structure or be over 16 feet.
City officials measured the rental unit at 26 feet, 4 inches, which is about a foot taller than the primary house and significantly above the restricted limit.
The owners suggested to fill soil around the structure to bring it to 25 feet and apply for a special exemption with the City Plan Commission.
On Thursday, the request was deemed “contrary to the spirit and purpose of the ordinance” and denied.
A city document stated “no unique circumstance exists to warrant the height exception for a structure that was built without permits.”
The structure must be rebuilt with proper permits or torn down, according to Wilke. The owners can also appeal the decision in front of the City Council.
Ald. Jan Michalski said several local residents alerted city officials of the structure.
“A number of people called and complained saying they wanted it gone,” Michalski said. “There were also people who spoke in its favor. It’s not that big of an eyesore in the neighborhood, but city rules are city rules.”
City alerts owners
In September, city officials discovered the unit online and delivered an order to cease operations. The rental unit was also found online on Trip Advisor and VRBO.
According to city records, inspection supervisor Richard Kath met with the owner on Sept. 21. Kath said he told the owner he would be fined if the unit continued to be advertised online and noted the electrical work and plumbing was being removed.
Kath also acknowledged the quality of work, stating “the building is constructed extremely well.”
The owner was fined for a re-inspection fee and could face additional fines if found outside of compliance, according to Wilke.
The unit, which slept five people, included a bathroom and hot water.
According to the rental description, one bedroom had a pullout, queen mattress and cushions available to form a twin bed. The other bedroom featured a queen air mattress and an oversized hammock.
Visitors could travel three stories from a zipline and “make lasting memories with loved ones” by the fire pit.
Attempts to contact the Swansons were unsuccessful.