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Who Says You Can’t Fight City Hall? Supreme Court Establishes a New Test for Floating Homes

The City of Riviera Beach, Florida sought to redevelop it’s marina but Mr. Lozman, a resident of a floating home in the city’s marina, challenged the redevelopment plan (Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida). The city first tried to evict Mr. Lozman for claims that he had municipal ordinance violations such as failing to muzzle his dog. When this effort failed, the city changed marina rules and dockage agreements in June of 2007. Mr. Lozman said he did not receive notice until March 2009 that he needed to be in compliance by April 1st or his dockage agreement would be terminated. Mr. Lozman than attempted to pay his fees by check which was returned from the city and also included a notice that his agreement was terminated. The city then sued Mr. Lozman’s home for unpaid fees making it clear the city believed the home was a vessel. This action is only allowed under admiralty law. The lower courts agreed with the city and the home was sold at public auction. The city then outbid all other parties and subsequently destroyed the home.

The Supreme Court rejected the definition of vessel is anything that floats and specifically stated a wooden washtub or a plastic dishpan is not a vessel. The Court then stated the vessel must be capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water and added a new test that a structure does not qualify 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 Court then held the city had improperly seized the home. Mr. Lozman will now return to district court to seek compensation for the destroyed home including reimbursement of $300,000 in legal fees. The new ruling also clears the way for Mr. Lozman to bring a wrongful conduct suit against the city. Mr. Lozman has also indicated he may return to the Riviera Beach marina with his new floating home.

Synposis from the April 2013 issue of The Sandbar, article written by Anna Outzen.

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