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A Toronto father who built his sons a $30,000 boat-shaped treehouse vowed Wednesday to defend what he considers a family haven from city officials who want it torn down.

John Alpeza spent years working on the naval-themed treehouse for his boys Kristian and Matheas, now 10 and 8.

It started as a simple platform in the tree, then grew more sophisticated as the family hired contractors to give it its signature shape and finishes, he said.

The structure now includes a roofed cabin roughly two metres by two metres as well as a hull, a ship's wheel and swing ropes, and abuts on the backyard fence.

Alpeza, a contractor, said he doesn't normally work on residential projects and didn't know he needed a permit to build a treehouse on his property.

A neighbour complained to the city two years ago, Alpeza said, "because it was too beautiful all of a sudden, it wasn't an ugly box anymore."

He was then asked to provide building plans and a permit request to the city last fall.

Then, last Friday, Alpeza said he received a voice-mail message ordering him to take down the treehouse this week or the city would seek a court order to do it.

No explanation was given for the decision, he said, adding he will "fight this in every way possible, even if it means spending many tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees."

The treehouse is part of a backyard "oasis" meant to pull the boys away from video games and other devices and encourage them to play with each other and their friends, Alpeza said.

It has also helped them grow closer as a family, he said.

The boys "love the treehouse because they know that this is dad's love for them," Alpeza said.

Losing the play space would be "so destructive, so painful," he said. "This would be like putting a stake through our family's heart."

A spokesman from the city said a building permit wasn't required for the treehouse, but an investigation was carried out to ensure compliance with a zoning bylaw.

Mark Sraga, director of investigations with the city, said that in August 2014 the treehouse was found to exceed the maximum allowable height.

Alpeza was issued with a notice of violation and given the option to either apply for a minor change to the bylaw or alter the treehouse to comply with the existing rule, he said.

"To date, there has been no action taken by the owner," said Sraga, noting that as a result, the city would now be laying charges for the contravention of the zoning bylaw.

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