The Supreme Court last week held that a Riviera Beach, FL resident’s floating home was a house, not a ‘vessel’, and therefore the marina where he had docked it could not seize his home under federal maritime law. The owner of the home, Fane Lozman, is a self-made millionaire who had been residing in the City of Riviera Beach Marina where he had indefinitely moored his 60-by-12 foot houseboat. The houseboat had been towed from another marina following Hurricane Wilma’s passing in the summer of 2005. Lozman had resided in Riviera Beach for a little more than a year before his relationship with city became rocky. The city had plans for a luxury development in the marina, but Lozman fought against it and ultimately succeeded in halting the plans. The city council wanted to clear the path for their development, and in 2007 passed new regulations for the marina, which required proof of insurance and registration, as well as new docking fees for the marina. In March, 2008, Lozman received a letter from the city advising him he would be evicted unless he brought his home in compliance with the new regulations and paid outstanding fees to the Marina also from the new regulations. In April 2009 the city arrested the houseboat and filed a claim in admiralty on his home, the boat was subsequently auctioned off and demolished. Lozman dismissed the admiralty claim, but the district court ruled in favor of the city, declaring that his home was indeed a ‘vessel’ and could be arrested under federal maritime law.
On appeal, the case finally reached the Supreme Court in 2012. The Supreme Court announced its ruling on January 15 ending the lengthy legal battle. The central question in the case was whether Lozman’s house could be considered a’vessel’ under federal maritime jurisdiction. Lozman argued that the house, which had no self-propulsion, energy production/storage, or rudder, was not a ‘vessel’ because it’s purpose and was not to transport goods or people. The City argued that the houseboat was indeed a vessel because it was capable of moving on water. The Supreme Court sided with Lozman
Lozman was seeking compensation for his house, which he valued at around $50,000, as well as reimbursement for legal and other related fees that totaled up to nearly $300,000. The ruling is expected to have significant legal ramifications for boat owners and others in the maritime. Across the country marinas, vessel owners, marine bankers, and other marine affiliated businesses have been reviewing their operations in light of the ruling. Among the issues the ruling is likely to affect are: