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What Laws Protect Owners of Floating Homes from a Marina Eviction?

I own a floating home. The structure consists of a two-story triple-wide modular home integrated onto a 40- by 80-foot barge. I keep the home at a marina here in Southern California, but I just received an eviction notice from the marina operator. I am current on my rent, so the reason for the eviction is unclear. I understand California has a law that protects owners of floating homes from this kind of discrimination, but I am having some trouble figuring out how that law works. Can you help?
We have addressed marina eviction issues in this column a number of times over the years, but we continue to get questions from readers on this subject. So, a refresher may be in order.            

Before addressing our reader’s specific questions, we need to convey a very important principle. When boat owners rent or lease a slip at a marina, they are only renting a place to store their stuff. Period. This is true even if the boat owner is a liveaboard.            

Fair housing and tenant protection laws that set forth specific rules for tenant eviction do not extend to a marina tenancy. The California Fair Employment & Housing Act extends its protections (pursuant to California Government Code sec. 12927) to people who live in “Housing Accommodations.”            

A Housing Accommodation is defined as “any building, structure or portion thereof that is occupied as, or intended for occupancy as, a residence …” Similarly, the federal Fair Housing Act (pursuant to its definition of “dwelling” in 42 U.S. Code sec. §3602) uses the same definition to describe the scope of its protection. Boats do not fall within these definitions.            

Slip rental agreements in California typically call for a month-to-month tenancy. This means that the agreement may be modified or terminated on 30-days’ notice by either party.            

Boat owners often complain that the fair housing laws should be extended to marina tenancies because 30 days is an unreasonably short notice period for the termination of a slip rental agreement. But keep in mind that the termination provision goes both ways. A boat owner may also terminate the agreement and leave the slip on 30 days’ notice.            

Our reader asked whether a California floating home law would protect him from eviction. The answer: Probably not.            

He is referring to 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), a permanent electrical connection (hard-wired to the boat with a meter rather than a shorepower cord), and where at least 10 percent of the slips in the marina are occupied by these types of floating homes. As such, the application of this body of law is mostly limited to several areas of San Francisco Bay — particularly in Sausalito.            

Our reader was concerned that he may have been the victim of a form of discrimination, and this is the one area of protection that boat owners share with their friends who are renting a landlocked home.            

A marina may not evict a tenant solely in retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of a legal right (this is known as a “retaliatory eviction”). We occasionally see this sort of thing where a tenant reports a marina operator for some form of illegal activity taking place on a marina property, and the marina responds by evicting the tenant. But this is extremely rare.            

Other forms of discrimination may be more common, but unfortunately, the term “discrimination” has a very narrow legal application. Generally speaking, it applies to classes of individuals that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be historically “suspect classes.” Most commonly, suspect classes are based on race or a recognized ethnic minority. Owners of floating homes owners are simply not going to qualify.            

A marina tenancy may best be compared to the rental of a storage unit or a space rental at a mobile home park. Notably, both of those transactions are covered by specific sections of California law, but both of those sets of laws are specifically limited to those types of tenancies, and they cannot be extended to marina agreements.            

As always, there are exceptions to every legal principle. And then, of course, there are exceptions to the exceptions. Be sure to contact an experienced maritime attorney to discuss the facts of your particular case, if you have questions regarding these issues.

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