Treehouse retreat must come down, says city of Kennesaw

A plank and rope bridge leading to a cupola-shaped treehouse

[All photos by Rebecca Gaunt]

by Rebecca Gaunt

Kennesaw’s Treasure Hunt Treehouse amassed hundreds of five-star reviews in its five-year run as a quirky vacation rental, but city officials have ordered it be demolished.

Owner Ryan McGovern pleaded with the Kennesaw City Council at the April 1 meeting to keep the structure that he said provides the majority of his income and pays his mortgage.

“I believe that this structure benefits the community through many different ways, including local restaurants and attraction visits,” he said.

McGovern and his wife Charmaine host the backyard treehouse getaway, which livens up the stay with a series of clues that lead guests to a treasure chest of goodies.

After he spoke, he presented the Council with a petition from his neighbors in support of allowing the treehouse to stay.

City officials have given him 30 days to obtain a permit for demolition. It must be removed within 30 days of receiving it.

According to officials, none of the proper permits for building, plumbing, or electrical were obtained for what they refer to as an Accessory Dwelling Unit. Because there were no permits acquired, there were no inspections of the structure.

Code enforcement deemed the dwelling unsafe, a designation McGovern told the Courier he disagrees with. He acknowledged there were no inspections done, but said he hired a professional builder that specializes in these types of projects.

The structure has electricity, but no plumbing or running water. McGovern uses a space heater in the winter and a portable air conditioner unit in the summer.

It connects to a full bathroom at the ground level, which is part of McGovern’s personal home, but reserved specifically for guest access.

The three-floor treehouse includes a 144-square-foot bedroom, with a wraparound porch on three sides. A rope bridge leads to a second structure with a seating area and desk.

Most stays are for one night, and the guests are usually couples, but it stays booked throughout the week. It makes about $75,000 a year, which McGovern said he splits with his business-partner father. 

For the five years they ran the treehouse, McGovern said there were no issues. But in March, someone filed an anonymous complaint with the city. On March 19, they were cited for violating the city ordinance requiring construction permits.

As of April 4, a large red sign with UNSAFE in capital letters is posted at the bottom of the steps. It cites “multiple violations of state electrical and building code.”

“My wife was pleading with tears in her eyes, please don’t take away our income that pays the note on our house,” McGovern told the Courier.

Under the threat of fines, McGovern has since removed the listing from Airbnb and VRBO, and canceled all bookings. Photos are still viewable on the treehouse’s Instagram account.

It’s McGovern’s account that he called the city six years ago to ask if he needed permits for a treehouse and was told no. Whether there was a clear understanding on the city’s end of what he planned to build is unclear. He no longer remembers the name of the staff member he spoke to.

Nor is the former Marine and Atlanta Police Department officer sure what he will do next to fill the gap. He already works two other jobs, but said it’s not enough to support his four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.

He and his father are currently working on a castle-themed rental in Kingston, but it’s at least a year out from being complete. His father footed the construction costs for both of the builds.

“Being a former police officer, I understand that while laws need to be enforced, you have discretion if it’s a draconian law,” he said.

An attorney advised him that it would cost about $40,000 to litigate in court and that he’d probably lose.

Charmaine said she’s thankful that their friends have been supportive, but she misses the sounds of guests’ children playing out back.

“This is my only shield against foreclosure,” said Ryan. “To say it’s been crushing is an understatement.” 

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.