“You need a permit to build a tiki hut in Marathon,” said Doug Lewis, City of Marathon’s Growth Management Director. According to city staff, there has been a rash of recent, unpermitted tiki hut construction. Currently, the city is investigating about 10 cases, including that of Marathon resident Roger Hall.

Hall said he contracted a construction company to build a tiki hut back in September. “I asked, ‘What about permits?’ and he told me that I didn’t need any because it was a native Indian exemption.”

That, Lewis said, is untrue.

“Tiki huts need to meet planning, zoning and building requirements. For example, the tiki hut can’t go right next to a seawall or lean up against the property fence or your own house. And the work has to be done by a licensed contractor,” said Lewis. “We are sending code department staff out there to look at them to see if they need to be torn down.”

Hall said typical construction costs for a 12-foot square tiki hut run about $6,000. He said he has no quibbles with the work — the structure is solid. 

“Before I started this, I looked up the Florida statute. For a layman, it’s very vague,” Hall said, adding he thought his project was legal.

The confusion stems from an old federal law on the books that has since been revised. Clearing up the urban legend — that native Seminole Indians can operate outside building code — is an uphill battle across South Florida.  

For more details, call Marathon City Hall at 305-743-0033.

Chickee or tiki?
What do you call those things? Well, it’s “tiki” in the popular vernacular. “Chickee” means “house” in the language of the Seminole Indians. The structures date back to the Second and Third Seminole Wars as U.S. troops chased the Indians into the Everglades. The bald cypress pole structure and palmetto thatch roof was designed to be disassembled quickly or abandoned all together. True chickee huts also feature a raised platform. (By the way, the Seminoles never lost the war(s), as they never surrendered.)

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