Riviera Beach wins court battle to sell activist's houseboat after removing it from marina

By Emily Roach and Willie Howard
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Updated: 9:13 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010
Posted: 8:57 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010

 
Fane Lozman  

Fane Lozman
Libby Volgyes/The Palm Beach Post

 

A federal judge sided with Riviera Beach in an ongoing battle with houseboat owner Fane Lozman, deciding the city can sell the structure to recover its costs of towing and storage. Lozman says he will fight to save his floating home.

U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas today agreed with Riviera Beach, based on testimony at a non-jury trial in November, saying the houseboat removed last April from the Riviera Beach Marina is a vessel and was trespassing after the city revoked the lease. The city had changed the rules to require those with leases at the marina to have a vessel that could propel itself out of the marina.

"This is a very important victory for the city because the court has confirmed our belief that the city has the right to demand that vessels and their owners follow our marina safety rules, have insurance and pay what they owe," City Attorney Pamela Ryan said in an e-mail today. "Hopefully, the city will have compliance with the rest of those docked at the marina and will not have to expend further dollars litigating these types of issues."

City critic Lozman, who won a prior case against the city in state court over the houseboat issue, contends the houseboat is not a vessel. He said tonight he would file an appeal with the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and ask to have the sale of the houseboat delayed.

U.S. Marshals carry a box that they said held a gun and ammunition from the boat of Fane Lozman in April 2009 near the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach. Marshals confiscated Lozman's boat as well.  
U.S. Marshals carry a box that they said held a gun and ammunition from the boat of Fane Lozman in April 2009 near the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach. Marshals confiscated Lozman's boat as well.
Brandon Kruse/The Peach Post
 

 "The judge doesn't have jurisdiction over a floating home," he said. "He should have kicked it back to state court and said don't come in with a landlord-tenant matter."

State laws across the country classify houseboats as floating homes, and not vessels, Lozman said, explaining that he pays property tax and cannot license the houseboat as a vessel. He said the ruling is a setback for houseboat owners everywhere.

The city has spent thousands of dollars to remove and store the two-story, gray houseboat, which at best has been valued at $35,000.

"We did set a precedent in the Southern District of Florida," Ryan said at tonight's city council meeting, "so we have helped out a lot of municipalities."

 

 
 
 
 

                             

Judge upholds seizure of Riviera Beach gadfly's houseboat from city marina

By Willie Howard
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009

RIVIERA BEACH The city was justified in having U.S. marshals seize the houseboat of longtime city critic Fane Lozman from the Riviera Beach Marina last spring, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas sided with the city Wednesday when he partially granted a motion for summary judgment in the federal maritime law case.

The case began April 20 when the city filed a maritime suit against the houseboat, alleging that Lozman had failed to sign a required dockage agreement. Marshals seized the boat from the marina and had it towed to a storage facility in Miami.

Lozman had argued that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over his "floating residential structure" under maritime law because it's a floating home, not a vessel.

Lozman said he plans to appeal Dimitrouleas' ruling.

"This case has a long way to go," Lozman said Thursday. "Summary judgment was improper in this case. I don't think he (Dimitrouleas) wanted to try the case. That's what appeals courts are for."

When the city filed the case against the houseboat in April, it said Lozman failed to sign a new dockage agreement that required vessels at the marina to be registered, insured and capable of leaving the marina in an emergency. Lozman argued that his houseboat had been at the marina since 2006 and was grandfathered in.

Lozman was given until April 1 to comply with the terms of the new dockage agreement but failed to do so.

The judge ruled that it was "undisputed" that the houseboat remained at the marina after the city's consent for it to be there had ended.

City Attorney Pamela Ryan, the city's maritime law attorneys and Lozman, who is representing himself, plan to meet with the judge on Friday in Fort Lauderdale to determine the next step in the legal process.

Ryan said the city will seek to recover legal fees from Lozman.

"The taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of this type of protracted litigation," she said.

 



                                       

Riviera Beach, activist face off in court Monday over money owed in houseboat dispute

By Willie Howard
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 4:50 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

The maritime law case involving the April 20 seizure of activist Fane Lozman's houseboat from the Riviera Beach Marina will go to trial Monday before federal judge William Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale.

Dimitrouleas sided with the city Wednesday, when he partially granted a motion for summary judgment that said the city had the right to have the vessel seized by U.S. marshals under maritime law in April. The city said Lozman did not sign a new dockage agreement that required vessels at the marina to be registered, insured and capable of leaving in an emergency.

In the bench trial set to begin Monday, the city will seek to recover more than $30,000 owed for towing and storing Lozman's houseboat at National Maritime Services in Miami. The city also wants a small amount of rent due for the time the houseboat stayed at the marina when it should have been gone, City Attorney Pamela Ryan said.

Lozman, who is representing himself, has subpoenaed Ryan, City Council Chairwoman Dawn Pardo, Assistant City Manager Gloria Shuttlesworth, marina director Ed Legue, two dockmasters and a marina clerk.

Lozman, 48, a longtime critic of city policies, moved his houseboat to the marina in 2006. He won an eviction case against the city in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in 2007.

Lozman said today that he will seek testimony from city officials in hopes of persuading the judge to vacate his Wednesday ruling.

Lozman also said that he will pursue a defense based on "unclean hands," a legal doctrine that says parties bringing matters before the court for relief must be innocent of wrongdoing and unfair conduct related to the claim.