Mary Lou Lane has lived on a houseboat in the Key West City Marina at Garrison Bight since 1995.
“Everybody is afraid,” she said about recently proposed lease changes with the city.
A resolution on the April 3 City Commission agenda was postponed to the May 1 meeting, after residents spoke out to District 2 Commissioner Sam Kaufman about sudden lease changes they said weren’t thought through.
Changes revolve mostly around proposed insurance requirements, the amount of time the owner has to remove the structure from the marina if it’s sinking, and what happens in the event of a storm. The current lease rules have been in place since 2003.
“It’s been a long time since the city looked at the lease situation,” said Kaufman, who held a meeting with about 50 residents after the lease resolution was taken off the agenda. There are 120 slips at Garrison Bight, he said, but not all are used by houseboats.
The proposed lease also says in the event of a tropical storm, if the floating home is not removed within two days of a hurricane watch, marina staff is authorized to remove the home from its slip, “or take any and all other reasonable actions deemed appropriate” to better secure it. The marina can also impose fees for such actions.
“When people read that, they take it as a threat as opposed to a security measure,” Kaufman said.
Furthermore, “We can’t move on our own,” Lane said.
Currently, the owner has 48 hours to remove the houseboat if it’s sinking, or a fine of $100 per day is issued. The new lease would cut the time down to 12 hours, with the fine being issued at $100 a day after a week’s time.
“If your vessel is sinking, how do you remove it in that short of time?” Kaufman asked.
The proposed lease would also require hull insurance and wreckage removal insurance in the event of a hurricane.
“Hull insurance is apparently not available for floating homes at all. These are the kinds of reasons why not to just put it on the agenda,” Kaufman said.
Lane’s husband Rob said residents are making progress with the city and trying to clarify exactly what the lease changes mean for their unique community.
Leases are currently month to month, and the Lanes, among others, want them to be annual. There’s also a paragraph in the proposed lease about increasing the rent by a dollar a month per foot.
“For a 40-foot home, that’s another $40 a month,” Rob said, adding there are yearly cost-of-living increases as well.
“It’s just a fantastic place to live. We are a tourist destination,” Mary Lou said.
“I think city staff realized there was more work to be done, and it’s important for us to remember, this is affordable housing,” Kaufman said. “This needs to be done in a thoughtful way and a way that the community can have input to have a fair and reasonable lease.”