Is a floating house a vessel?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by gonzo, Jan 10, 2016.

  1. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    LOZMAN v. CITY OF RIVIERA BEACH (the Supreme Court decision which started this thread) is interesting because the municipality was arguing the houseboat fell under Federal maritime law and the owner was arguing it did not. Previously in most cases of disputes between municipalities or states and liveaboard boat owners the positions have been reversed with the boat owners arguing their vessels fall under Federal maritime law and therefore are exempt from local and state regulation. So even though in LOZMAN v. CITY OF RIVIERA BEACH the boat owner won and the municipality lost, many houseboat owners probably wish the municipality had won.

    The Supreme Court decision text and the dissenting opinion are at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-626_p8k0.pdf
     
  2. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    From what I've read, in the old days some quite sizable houseboats were wrangled by poles held by a number of men standing on the deck. While employment costs would be prohibitive to take that route today, college football or basketball coaches aside, the ability to argue that historically that has been a form of human powered vehicle, able to make progress and be controlled, might hold out hope for those wanting to still be considered a vessel: just have the poles

    Also, as I've occasionally pointed out, here in Texas there are no registration fees paid by human powered boats. :p
     
  3. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    It gets down to taxation. Cities can now tax and regulate them as houses. They can also regulate what could be called a housing development.
     
  4. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    So I wonder if you can demonstrate it can get underway, and poles are an historically valid form of propulsion, would it becomes a vessel ... should you so choose?

    This is what can happen when laws are written or construed so it basically ensures full employment for lawyers.

    (I've sometimes said that we should call many statutes "Full Employment for Lawyers Act" of whatever year :p )
     
  5. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    You might take time to read the Supreme Court decision.

    The test from the decision of whether a vessel falls under maritime law is:
    Consequently, a structure does not fall within the scope of the statutory phrase 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.​
    The question of propulsion was addressed in the decision, and propulsion by itself does not make a floating object a vessel for maritime law purposes. Also the ability to get underway was addressed and the Supreme Court found that the fact that Lozman's houseboat had made voyages of over 70 miles and over 200 miles under tow did not make it a vessel.

    It's clear to me that the decision means hanging an outboard on a floating building, and then demonstrating that it can move under it's own power is insufficient to make it a vessel under maritime law unless it was otherwise designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.
     
  6. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    And as I mentioned in a previous post in LOZMAN v. CITY OF RIVIERA BEACH the municipality was effectively arguing against the ability to regulate and tax floating homes, and the owner as effectively arguing for that ability.
     
  7. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    Yes, I realize that it had been towed. But I've been talking about making provision for moving without a tug or other external moving force. After all, to be able to be moved by some inboard power means making actual accommodations for it, places suitable for pole men to work for example, which passes the "looking at" test.

    Mush as I said, the ruling exposes owners to the prejudices of jurists and pretty much ensures that lawyers will be employed ... which is not really a good thing. If your shanty has fore and aft decks, and your judge has been bitten by the boat bug, he may agree that having the poles makes it a vessel ... but another judge may only see a floating home. Conversely, some town may opportunistically alter how they deal with some particular person just by how they describe the floating structure.
     
  8. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

  9. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    A lot of law involves subjective standards, including a lot of criminal law. The Supreme Court decision at least provides a single national standard. Previously different courts used a variety of standards. As I said, take a few minutes and read the decision for yourself.
     
  10. philSweet
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    philSweet Senior Member

    This case is weird because it involves seizure in rem under Admiralty law. There was no human defendant.

    I'm reading through the court's decision and I find a couple of odd statements.

    There is a discussion of objective vs subjective interpretation with respect to the idea of "capable of being used" for transporting, but the discussion doesn't mention design choices or trade-offs or economic considerations. As the opinion is written, it takes place in too general a context and is basically a tautology. A boxy hull is regarded (universally?) as evidence against practical transport. That's odd. How would a less boxy hull make this particular floating house more practical for transport? The regulations say nothing about transport efficiency - nothing about minimum speed, minimum quantity of cargo, minimum cargo value, minimum distance traveled. If I tacked a bulbous bow on a boxy hull, would the ordinary person now think it more suitable for transport?

    I agree that the floating house does not operate in a manner that would put the shoreside community at special risk and that it should not be exposed to special in rem seizure laws that come with Admiralty jurisdiction. I just don't like how they got there. The ruling certainly should give others pause before they try this again. But the very strict view of the linkage of vessel status and the shifting of commercial cargo or passengers doesn't cover what is actually out there on the water. What about a spill cleanup vessel? It separates oil from seawater. How is this a vessel? What is the commerce? What does an anchor handling vessel trade in? How would a shoreside community experience special risk because of it?
     
  11. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    You folks seem to be missing the real point, which is domain. The local municipalities want control (domain) not only for regulation, tax revenue, etc, but most importantly of all, so they can declare an area blighted, which gives them several additional options, usually involving removal and full control (domain) over the area's future.

    This isn't about the determination of is it a vessel or not, but which set of regulations can be applied and how they might want to, in some envisioned eventuality. Picture this, the shanty on a barge is declared a floating home, not a vessel, now the state or municipality has domain, so the shore that's currently littered with these dodgy, ramshackled eyesores (to the developers that want the shore line and the politicians that want their kick backs and can force bond issues), get to declare the area blighted and they can move in and eminent domain the whole lot of them, assuming the threatening letters didn't scare them off first.

    Lets face it, all floating houses are vessels, even if they don't have engines. These "boats" are moved all the time, with push boats and in fact, often have "U" shaped slots in their butts for the pushboat to park. To suggest it's so they can go fishing is an absurdity, as anyone that has been around these areas, know darn well what the boat's are really for. The fishing thing is just a side benefit. So, is a barge full of coal a vessel or just a floating home for coal? Pleeeease. If you look at a houseboat row contract, it'll clearly state the boat has to be movable, in case of slip/dock/utilities repairs and emergencies are necessary.

    The reality is, politicians and developers have been in bed with each other for years, coating butts so they can both get what they want. The politicians want a larger tax base, which they'll get once the 18 story condo complex goes up and the rickety, houseboat row is removed, as to not spoil the view. Unmolested shorelines have been disappearing in all urban areas and this is one way they get it. Hell, they can declare historic old buildings a blight, just so they can tear them down, get re-election funding and a new revenue base, they can exploit. So what do you think they're going to do to hapless houseboat owners, most of which can't afford to defend their dog in a biting incident, let alone a protracted battle with the local municipality.

    This isn't about houseboats. This is about a single case of a cantankerous old fart, that had someone (law firm, looking for points to score) pickup the case, to make a political point and the municipality's effort, to try to gain control over something they have big plans for.
     
  12. CT249
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    CT249 Senior Member

    OK, so what do you suggest as a way of writing the relevant laws for this issue, that is completely open AND PLEASING to everyone, everywhere, from every side of the issue, with no grey area whatsoever no matter what the issue, for evermore?
     
  13. Rurudyne
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    Rurudyne Senior Member

    I'm utterly unconcerned with the unlikely and highly dubious urge to please everyone. It isn't gonna happen. Rather, it's just better to push back against the expansion of government power where ever it happens: repeal without replacement if you will.

    I suppose one might say that, as far as I'm concerned, if people are gonna be unhappy those out to grow government should end up being the unhappiest of all.
     
  14. philSweet
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    philSweet Senior Member

    Perhaps if the Court had said what it was, instead of what it wasn't, things might have actually improved. This decision implies that a floating home is under the jurisdiction of the state even while it is being shifted over water.

    Suppose I have a floating house (non vessel) registered as a boat. Suppose I have a small boat listed as a tender to the big one (less than 10hp and displaying proper numbers). Suppose I now use this tender to shift the floating home along navigable waters. What am I exactly? If I collide with an actual, undisputed, vessel, what did it run into - The shore???

    Methinks the Court overturned the idea that no man is an island.:p
     

  15. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member


    Wiggle word is "practical".

    Some think nothing of clamping a few huge outboards on a barge and moving it a few miles, or even hiring a tugboat.

    Huge barges that no normal person could "practically" move are actually designed to transport stuff.

    Maybe shanties that would surely come apart if moved might qualify.

    Sounds like all houseboats would still be boats.
     
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