Is my tenancy a “Marina Tenancy” or a “Floating Home Tenancy?”

The California Floating Home Residency Law (“FHRL,” Cal. Civ. Code § 800 et seq.) is the primary law regulating floating home tenancies in California.  The FHRL applies specifically to floating homes in floating home marinas.  A floating home is a floating structure that meets the following:

(1) It is designed and built for use as a stationary residential dwelling on water; 
(2) It does not have independent power; 
(3) It is linked continuously to land-based utilities; and,
(4) It has a continuous hookup to a land-based sewage system.  Cal. Civ. Code § 800.3; Health & Saf. C § 18075.55(d).

The FHRL does not apply to all other marina tenancies e.g. a marina tenant who resides in a mobile house boat with independent power, utilities, or sewage.  The remainder of this article applies to house boat marina tenancies, which are not covered by the FHRL.

What are my legal protections if my marina tenancy is not covered by the FHRL?

House boats are not covered by the FHRL.  Instead, house boats are considered “marina tenancies.”  For marina tenancies, the house boat owner leases a space on the surface of the water.  This space is known as a boat slip.  California courts consider the occupancy of a rental boat slip to be rental of real property.  Smith v. Municipal Court, 202 Cal. App. 3d 685 (1988).  Thus, the marina tenant’s boat slip lease is considered the lease of real property.

Like traditional on-land housing leases, those leasing boat slips in California cannot be forced out unless the marina operator (i.e. landlord) files and wins an unlawful detainer eviction proceeding in court.  Smith v. Municipal Court, 202 Cal. App. 3d 685 (1988).  An unlawful detainer action is the legal method used to evict a tenant from their home or boat slip.  It requires the filing of court paperwork and subsequent court proceedings.  The marina operator must obtain an eviction order from court (i.e. unlawful detainer judgment) before removing a marina tenant from a boat slip.  Out of court self-help methods like barricading the slip are unlawful.

What happens to boats left in a marina following a marina tenant eviction?

A marina operator must follow all requirements of the Boaters Lien Law, codified at Harbors and Navigation Code section 500 et seq., to dispose of a boat not covered by the FHRL left in a slip by an evicted marina tenant.  Mariners Bay Co. v. DMV, 229 Cal. App. 3d 808 (1991).  The Boaters Lien Law, provides the exclusive means of enforcing disposal of any boat left in a slip following a marina tenant eviction.  Id.

Among other things, the Boaters Lien Law requires certain notice be given to the boat’s owner before sale or disposal of the abandoned property, establishes a method for contesting the sale, and provides for an appraisal process for a boat left in a slip following an eviction.  Additionally, the Boaters Lien Law sets out procedures for sale of boats to satisfy liens, including amounts owed for past-due rent and other marina-provided services.

Under the Boaters Lien Law, a marina operator has a lien on any boat or other vessel left behind that could be registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicle (“DMV”).  The amount of the marina’s lien is equal to what the boat owner owes the marina for any storage (i.e. unpaid rent) or other services provided.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 502(a).  A lien for unpaid rent or services provided by the marina can be enforced against the legal owner of the boat, as shown on the DMV registration.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 502(b).  

A lien for charges or services exceeding $1,500 is not valid unless the marina operator gives prior written notice by mail to the registered boat owners before incurring such charges.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 502(b).  The notice must state that the charge(s) exceeds $1,500, that consent of the legal owner is presumed as to storage (i.e. rental) charges, and the vessel is subject to sale for the recovery of those charges.  Id.  The marina operator need not give such notice for charges or services less than $1,500.

Next, the marina operator must file an Application for Authorization to Sell with the DMV.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 503(a).  The marina operator must simultaneously file a Declaration of Value by a licensed yacht or shipbroker declaring the fair market value of the boat based on a physical inspection.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 507.

Once the marina operator obtains authorization to sell from the DMV, the marina operator may conduct a sale of the boat.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 503(f); Harb. & Nav. Code § 506.

The registered owner of the boat has a right of redemption for up to ten (10) days after the sale.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 506.5.  This means that the registered owner may reclaim the boat upon the payment of the full lien amount and all costs and expenses associated with the lien, plus interest.  Id.

What happens to non-boat personal property left in a boat or boat slip following a marina tenant or FHRL eviction?

The Boaters Lien Law does not apply to other personal property, including property left on or in the boat.  Harb. & Nav. Code § 509.  The marina operator must dispose of a marina tenant’s non-boat personal property left on the premises following the termination of a tenancy according to the terms of California Civil Code section 1983.

California Civil Code section 1983 requires the marina operator to give written notice to the tenant and to any other person reasonably believed to be the owner of the property.  The notice must contain a description of the property, state that storage costs may be assessed, provide a location to claim the property, and date before a claim can be made.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1983.  The Notice must be personally delivered or sent via first class mail.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1983(c).  The former tenant may claim the property before the specified date.

If the property is not released under California Civil Code section 1983, it must be sold at a public sale by competitive bidding.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(a).  The former tenant may bid on the property.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(a).  Prior to the sale, the marina operator must provide a Notice of Sale to the owner.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(a).  The Notice of the Sale must state the time, place, and describe the property in a manner that permits identification by the owner.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(b).  The marina operator must tender all leftover sale proceeds to the county treasury.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(c). The former tenant has one year to claim the sale proceeds.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(c).

Alternatively, a marina operator need not comply with the sale requirement if the marina operator reasonably believes the total resale value of the property is less than $700.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(a).  In that case, the marina operator may retain and use the property or dispose of it in any manner.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1988(a).