At the Skipanon Marina, a dispute over liveaboards

Nov. 25—WARRENTON — Several tenants living on boats at the Skipanon Marina have rebuffed eviction attempts in an effort to keep their moorage.

Stopwater LLC, a company that includes several Columbia River Bar Pilots, owns and operates the marina on the Skipanon River. Up until recently, the slips were home to a number of recreational boats, as well as six liveaboards.

In mid-September, lease terminations were issued to recreational boaters who rented space at the marina. Offering refunds for any prepaid moorage, the letter stated that boaters must vacate their slips and remove any personal items left on the dock by Oct. 12.

The letter referred to new management and the company's plans to conduct maintenance, dock repairs, dredging and construction to the dock and the property.

Several weeks later, live-aboard tenants received different lease terminations. In one reviewed by The Astorian, the notice of termination for cause cited a lack of registration and insurance on the vessel. Another notice to the same tenant pointed to the vessel as being in disrepair.

Yet nearly two months after the eviction notices were circulated, none of the live-aboard tenants have vacated their slips, and some are questioning the legality of kicking them out.

Following the refusal to leave, Stopwater has begun making other offers, including proposing money to part ways, or taking on new, two-year leases.

As tensions flare, some involved have talked about taking the dispute to court.

'This is our home'

Around 10 people occupy the six liveaboards that still sit in the Skipanon Marina. Several have indicated they have no plans to leave, maintaining that the company has no grounds to terminate their leases.

Melissa Coberly, who lives on a houseboat with her husband, said the eviction notices were unexpected.

"It's heartbreaking. This is our home," Coberly, who raised two children on the boat, said. "Just like anyone else that loves their home, we've worked really hard ... to pay that off thinking that we're securing our future ... It definitely feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath us."

Joe Brady, the president of Stopwater and a bar pilot, said that the company has been going through the permitting process for several years with the marina improvements in mind.

In the letter to boaters, the company apologized for short notice but placed the blame on the former manager, who recently retired, for not communicating the company's plans. Brady maintains that the manager, whose hiring predated Stopwater's arrival, did not follow direction to notify tenants.

Brady said the company has done as many improvements as it can without having to remove people.

"We're just trying to exercise our rights as the property owners to do the improvements to the property and bring it up to the standards that it should be (at)," he said. "We're being prevented (from) doing that by some of the tenants that are there."

Some of the live-aboard tenants have taken issue with how the process played out.

"We have been treated, snubbed, like the bastard stepchildren in the family since the day they moved in. There was no cause for that," Jason Morasch, a live-aboard tenant, said.

Brady alleged that some tenants have unpaid rent, dumped sewage and bypassed regulations.

"These people are very lucky to have gotten as far as they have," he said.

Brady said the company is working with attorneys and asserts they have closely followed the law. He called their offer to tenants "generous."

"We've been more than reasonable. We've been very patient. We're trying to help them find other places. We're not trying to put anyone out on the street," he said. "But at the same time, as property owners, we have rights and we feel like this is our duty to the community to clean it up as well."

'There is no place for us to go'

Stopwater took over the Skipanon Marina nearly a decade ago. While constructing a bar pilot facility on the river, the company also sought to clean up the marina, which had become known for its poor condition and criminal activity.

Several live-aboard tenants credited the company for its work. Morasch referred to the improved spot as similar to a "gated community."

"Because of the bar pilots, we look the way that we do," he said. "If you'd seen the way we looked before the bar pilots had moved in — we looked like a homeless camp."

Most of the live-aboard tenants have been at the marina prior to Stopwater's purchase, and few new liveaboards have been brought on since.

Liveaboards are becoming increasingly rare on the North Coast, as managing and caring for the boats can bring many challenges. Difficulties include high infrastructure costs to support vessels, liability, dealing with sewage and navigating complex landlord-tenant laws.

"It's a lot to police, and it is almost a different sort of problem because you have tenant-landlord laws," Jane Sweet, the harbormaster of the Warrenton Marina, said. "It's a whole new issue. It can get touchy. It's hard to manage everything."

The city has several liveaboards, but stopped accepting new ones. The Port of Astoria hosts eight liveaboards, but has no capacity for additional moorage.

In the past, debates have raged over what constitutes a "floating home" and what it takes to evict a live-aboard tenant.

In 2008, in Ramsum v. Woldridge, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a Multnomah County Circuit Court decision and ruled in tenants' favor after liveaboards were given 30-day eviction notices. The boats were determined to be floating homes under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, and therefore the eviction notice was not sufficient to lawfully evict them.

If they are forced to leave the Skipanon Marina, tenants have expressed concern about where they will take their boats or live.

"We can't just pick up and leave. There is nowhere we can take our boat to and be able for my wife to keep working," Jay Parkhill, a live-aboard tenant, said. " ... The net result of pressing it would be this — if they win, there will be 10 more homeless people here in our town. Not to mention, half a dozen more boats that the state of Oregon is going to have to pay to destroy."

Liveaboards are often looped in with RVs in discussions about landlord-tenant laws, but Morasch and Parkhill rejected the comparison.

"You get in and find public parking and you're good to go ... You get to pretty much drive away," Morasch said of RVs. "And there is always a campground, there is always a Walmart parking lot that you can park in and figure out your next move. We don't have that option. There is no place for us to go."

Brady claimed that Stopwater is willing to work with tenants on relocation efforts. He said the company plans to invite some boaters back after the upgrades are made to the marina, but would not commit to having liveaboards in the future.