Houseboat owners in Seattle and Sausalito, Calif., likewise, urged the court not to extend the reach of maritime law.
“One of my main motivations is that 10,000 floating homes around the country should not have to go through the horror show that I did ... to include having armed federal marshals breaking down the door of your home and seizing it. That should not happen in America,” Lozman said Tuesday.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy dissented, warning that the court’s ruling “reaches well beyond relatively insignificant boats like Lozman’s craft” to potentially call into question regulations of larger vessels.
But the Obama administration had sided with Lozman, warning about unnecessary inspection burdens on the U.S. Coast Guard. Kerri Barsh, a shareholder with Greenberg Traurig in Miami, and one of Lozman’s attorneys, added Tuesday that the ruling “closed the door” to a potentially onerous new round of regulations.
“Not every floating structure is a ‘vessel,” Breyer wrote. “To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio [when inside the whale] are not ‘vessels.’ ”
Lozman bought his floating home (60 feet long, 12 feet wide) in 2002 and docked it at the Riviera Beach marina after Hurricane Wilma destroyed his former marina. The rectangular structure lacked an engine, bilge pumps, lifeboats or other devices usually found on waterborne vessels. It was equipped for connection to land-based sewer lines and received its power through an extension cord. Its small rooms looked like ordinary living quarters, with windows instead of watertight portholes.
But Riviera Beach officials, following extended conflict with Lozman, eventually turned to U.S. maritime law in 2009 to seize the home as a vessel. They towed it to Miami, where they bought it at auction for $4,100 and then had it destroyed.
“The houseboat was in violation of the wet slip agreement, and it posed a hazard to other vessels in the marina if, because of its flimsy moorings, it came unmoored during a storm,” Riviera Beach’s attorney David C. Frederick declared during oral argument last October.
Barsh, whose firm has been representing Lozman pro bono, said the legal victory means Lozman can now seek legal fees from the city of Riviera Beach. He can also receive a payout from a $25,000 security bond that had been placed by the city pending the court’s decision. Lozman said he will also seek reimbursement for the value of his home and furniture.
He said that within the next six months he will decide whether to put another floating home in Riviera Beach, where he still has plenty of friends and supporters.
“You can fight city hall,” Lozman said. “It’s very humbling. You can make it to the top and win.”