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Is a Houseboat a House or a Vessel?

The Daily Business Review lays out the story of Fane Lozman, the man who owned a houseboat, floating home or other item that floated off the Rivera Beach that the U.S. Supreme Court has now heard oral argument on. This case was debated during a recent meeting of the Florida Bar Admiralty and Maritime Law Committee on September 20th.
As background as laid out by the DBR, Lozman made a boatload of money off the tech bubble and decided to live the good life on a houseboat at a Riviera Beach marina. The city, though, had a $2.4 million redevelopment plan for the public marina with its easy access to the ocean. Lozman stood in the city's way and was determined to fight the city's use of eminent domain. Riviera Beach turned to federal maritime law to evict Lozman after he succeeded in state court, arguing he was being retaliated against for speaking out against the redevelopment plan.

Now the former Chicago financial trader is a cause celebre for fellow houseboat residents around the country, fighting his eviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court opened its fall session by hearing arguments in the case. The question for the nine justices was a simple one: whether a houseboat is a house or a boat. According to the DBR, their answer could have wide-ranging consequences for houseboat owners, floating casinos and government agencies. What the DBR forgets is the consequences for marinas and other necessaries providers to these houseboats.
According to the DBR, the intent of the houseboat owner should be what is looked at, rather than an objective test of what is a vessel. I query where this would take work platforms, work rafts and other equipment utilized by employers of maritime workers. If a worker is on these types of work platforms, can the employer simply state that these platforms were not intended to leave the work area, didn't have a motor, had no reasonable way of transporting itself and meant to stay in one location, as a way of avoiding Jones Act liability to crew of vessels? I wonder what the maritime plaintiffs' bar has to say about this? Barges are "motorless boats", do they now not become vessels if they are stationary and the owner says it was not intended to be a vessel?

The transcript of the oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court is now available. It is quite interesting discourse for those following this case. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the transcript, please feel free to write to me at to get your copy.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of the DBR article, you may also ask me for an electronic copy.


  1. Hopefully, SCOTUS will take the time to fazmiliarize itself with the factual issues of the marine industry in its broadest sense. Constructing a definition that relies on "intent" is a quagmire waiting to happen. Vessels are not distinguished by such features as self-propulsion, witness barges which can by no rational means be excluded from the class of "vessels." So a "houseboat" becomes a house on a barge. The only rational distinguishing elements are 1) is it afloat?, and 2) is it in any way permanently connected to shore? But no being a lawyer, what do I know anyway?

    Phil Friedman

  2. The DBR has no concept of maritime issues and law - their opinion, as interesting as it may be, will have no bearing on the decision of the SCOTUS.
    Media does this too often - publish a story written by someone with no real familiarity with the issues at hand. Everyone gets hot under the collar over a story that will have no bearing on the final outcome.


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