Riviera Beach wins court battle to sell activist's houseboat after removing it from marina
Emily Roach and
Updated: 9:13 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010
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.
"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."
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