Floating Home Was Not a Boat, Supreme Court Rules

By Andrew Lu on January 17, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Don't call it a "houseboat." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that a Florida man's floating home was not a vessel. For the record, a houseboat has means of propulsion, and Fane Lozman's home did not.

Because of that distinction, the "floating home" should not have been seized by the City of Riviera Beach under federal maritime law, the Court held.

But why would a city try to seize a man's houseboat -- er, floating residence -- in the first place? And then argue it all the way up to the Supreme Court? Well, the home's owner was a bit of a pain in the neck, NPR reports.

Fane Lozman bought his 60-by-12-foot floating home and remodeled it to look just like anyone else's home. The houseboat was so much like a house that it lacked most things that make a boat a boat: It had no propulsion mechanism, no independent electricity, and no rudder, writes NPR.

Lozman kept his houseboat at Riviera Beach, about 80 miles north of Miami. And Lozman did not keep a low profile. In fact, the floating home owner successfully challenged a $2.4 billion city plan to develop the marina, raising the ire of the city.

So the city tried to evict him. Unsuccessful, the city then tried to have Lozman's home declared a "vessel" under federal maritime law so that they could put a lien on it and eventually take it over.

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court held that the city had no right to a lien against Lozman's floating home under federal maritime law. Their reasoning was simple: the "houseboat" was not a boat.

The court held that "not every floating structure is a vessel." The court continued that "a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons ... or Pinocchio (when inside the whale)," are also not considered vessels, reports NPR.

Instead, to be considered a vessel under federal maritime law, the vessel needs to be "used as a means of transportation." Lozman's floating home clearly did not fit this definition.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard