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Real Estate Law – Can your home float?

Real Estate Law – Can your home float?


By: Andrew Cuevas, Esq.

e-mail: acuevas@cuevaslaw.com

Tel: (305) 461-9500

Fax: (305) 448-7300


Mr. Andrew Cuevas, Esq., is the President of Cuevas, Garcia & Torres, P.A., and Vantage Property Title Company. Cuevas, Garcia & Torres, P.A. provides legal services in the areas of Community Association Law, Real Estate law, and Business Immigration, including title insurance services through Vantage Property Title Company. If you have any questions regarding this article or any other questions, you can contact Mr. Cuevas at (305) 461-9500 or at acuevas@cuevaslaw.com. If you are interested in reading previous newsletters, please visit www.cuevaslaw.com, select the icon for Newsletters, and then choose the area of law you are interested in.

Can your home float?

Not all issues addressed in our periodic newsletters need to necessarily be serious and life changing. Once in while we find an issue which probably will never affect any of our clients, but is worth mentioning solely for being a unique issue.

In Riviera Beach, Mr. Lowman claimed that he had a floating home, which in fact was merely a plywood structure with empty bilge space underneath to keep it afloat. He had it towed several times before deciding on a marina owned by the city of Riviera Beach, and there he stayed. After various disputes and unsuccessful efforts to evict him from the marina, the city brought an admiralty lawsuit in rem against the home, seeking a lien for dockage fees and damages for trespass. In other words, the city was attempting to utilize admiralty law to remove the boat from the marina as other conventional legal methods of eviction were not successful.

The federal district court found the floating home to be a "vessel" under the Rules of Construction Act, which defines a "vessel" as including "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water;" concluded that admiralty jurisdiction was proper; and awarded fees and damages. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, noting that the home was "capable" of movement over water despite subjective intent to remain moored indefinitely.

The United States Supreme Court came to the rescue of Mr. Lozman and reversed the lower courts rulings [Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 133 S.Ct. 735 (2013)]. Even though the plywood structure had already been destroyed, the U.S. Supreme court heard the case and decided the home was not a vessel since the definition of "transportation" must be applied in a practical way. The Court held that a structure does not fall within its scope unless a reasonable observer, looking to the home's physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water. This was merely a plywood structure, and even though the structure floated, nothing about Lozman's home suggests that it was designed to any practical degree to transport persons or things over water. It had no steering mechanism, had an unraked hull and rectangular bottom 10 inches below water, and had no capacity to generate or store electricity. It lacked self-propulsion, unlike an ordinary houseboat.

How does this apply in our regular every day real estate practice? I have no idea! I just thought it was interesting to let you know that if you do not have, but want, a house, just have a good carpenter build a floating structure for you, make sure that there is no rudder or engine, plop it in the water, and presto magico - you have a home - water view !

This article is solely a partial explanation of all the issues related to the topic of this newsletter, and is not to be considered legal advice. The reader should consult with its legal counsel to obtain explanations of all issues addressed herein.

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