I moved onto my boat as a “legal” liveaboard a few months ago. The marina manager required me to sign an agreement and pay a security deposit, along with the first and last months’ rent. Three weeks after I signed the agreement, I found a notice taped to the boat advising that I was being evicted and that I had 30 days to remove my boat from the marina. I was unable to find a new slip, so I refused to leave — and they responded by cutting off the power to my slip. They gave no reason for the eviction, but I am concerned that it may be a form of unfair discrimination against liveaboard boaters — and when they cut the power, it became clear that they want to hassle me until I give up and leave. Is there anything I can do to protect my rights?
The short answer is, our reader can’t do anything to protect his rights because, based on the information provided, nobody is doing anything to violate his rights.
We have addressed marina tenancies and rental agreements in a number of prior installments of this column, but it may be time for a refresher.
The concept that people seem to have the most trouble grasping is the characterization of a slip rental agreement as a storage agreement for personal property. In other words, a boat owner — even a liveaboard boat owner — is not renting a “home.” He or she is renting a “parking space,” and nothing more.
Marina tenancies are generally characterized as a form of commercial tenancy, even if the boat owner lives aboard the boat. The tenancy falls somewhere between a public storage facility and a space rental at a mobile home park, though unlike those two arrangements, California law does not specifically address a marina tenancy.
Most of the laws that restrict the behavior of a landlord in California and in other states are limited to “dwelling units,” and the definition of that term clearly does not extend to a boat. And at least one court has held that “the right to dock one’s boat at a particular berth or marina cannot be equated with the right to decent low-cost housing, even if one chooses to live aboard the boat.”
As a commercial tenancy, the consumer protections that are available to residential tenants are generally not available to marina tenants, and a month-to-month slip lease may be terminated — without cause — on 30 days’ notice.
This is exactly what happened in our reader’s case. He is suspicious about the basis for the eviction, because the marina refuses to give him a reason. But the marina is not required to give a reason.
It is important to note that this is not a one-sided arrangement, and that both parties to the agreement (the boat owner and the marina) are free to terminate the lease on 30 days’ notice without providing a reason.
Our discussions with boat owners inevitably lead to a discussion of California’s Floating Home Residency Law (Cal. Civil Code §800). However, this law applies only where the vessel has a permanent sewer connection (i.e. a pipe actually plumbed into the city sewer system), and where at least 10 percent of the slips in the marina are occupied by these types of vessels. As such, the application of this body of law is mostly limited to several areas of San Francisco Bay — particularly in Sausalito.
The one area of protection that boat owners share with their friends who are renting a landlocked home is the prohibition against retaliatory eviction. A marina may not evict a tenant solely in retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of a legal right.
We occasionally see this sort of thing where a tenant reports a marina operator for some form of illegal activity taking place on marina property, and the marina responds by evicting the tenant. But this is extremely rare.
Our reader was concerned that he may have been the victim of a form of discrimination, but he will have a tough time with that argument. The term “discrimination” has a very narrow legal application, and generally speaking, it applies to classes of individuals that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be historically “suspect classes.” A racial or ethnic minority may fall within that definition but a liveaboard boater does not.
Based on the information provided by our reader, he was properly served with a notice of termination of his month-to-month slip rental agreement. The fact that notice was provided only a few weeks after the inception of the lease makes no difference. When he refused to leave the slip after the expiration of the lease, he became a form of trespasser — at which point, the marina had no obligation to continue to provide the services (such as electricity) that would have been required under the terms of the lease.
We always encourage readers to contact an attorney if they have a case similar to the cases we discuss in this column. Here, it is especially important to work with an experienced maritime attorney, since the law in this area differs so much from residential landlord/tenant law.