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#WeirdBoats House or Boat? Legal Fight Looms Over Miami Floating Mansion

By: Scott Way

Arkup houseboat floating mansion
Photo- Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Does the 'Arkup' qualify as a house, or a boat? The lawyers are about to find out.


One look at the picture above and you can make a fair case it's a floating home. It's not a boathouse -- there's no room for boats. It certainly doesn't look like a houseboat, because it looks to be connected to the property behind it.


What appears to be a floating home on Miami's Biscayne Bay is now embroiled in a legal drama that could have rogue houseboat owners popping their heads out the window asking, "so you're saying I can't stay here for free anymore?"


The case is thus: lawyers representing the millionaire who owns the...object above, claim that it's a boat, and therefore can't be classified as a house. County officials, on the other hand, have deemed it to be a floating home and slapped a $120,000 property tax bill on the owner.


But here's the thing - it is a boat. It's called Arkup, and it's essentially an eco-friendly houseboat with a motor and helm. It's not exactly Speed Racer, its top speed is only 5-6 knots, but it does contain a bow deck with controls for navigation, 136 horsepower thrusters, and an anchor.


There is video proof of the Arkup cruising around Biscayne Bay.

Arkup calls their boats "livable yachts," which for any lawyers or county officials reading this, creates a very grey definition about whether they qualify as a boat or a home.


The Arkup was built in Miami by French engineers Nocolas Derouin and Arnaud Luguet, who envisioned it as a beacon of renewable energy and environmental preservation. The 'boat' is indeed environmentally friendly -- it has a rainwater collection and purifying system and solar panels.


Derouin told the Miami Herald in 2019, “We want to design small apartments on the water for students, townhouses for families. We want to create housing solutions for a broader audience. That’s the vision behind Arkup.”


Arkup was instead purchased by British businessman Jonathan Brown for $3.3 million in 2021 and has been in Biscayne Bay ever since. Brown's companies, which include MacKnight International and MacKnight Food Group, made billions in the fish processing industry before Brown sold them in 2019.


Because of its gaudy presence and semi-permanent connection to the shoreline, Miami-Dade County officials have deemed it a "floating structure." Under that classification, they hit Brown with a fat $120,000 property tax bill. Waterfront ain't cheap.

However, Brown's boat is registered with the U.S Coast Guard. It is therefore legally considered a vessel, and falls under all the same regulations as any other boat on the water. It has propulsion, anchors, navigation lights, a VHF radio, and life vests. But it's also 75 feet long and has 2600 square feet of indoor living space, 1750 square feet of patio, and an outdoor kitchen.


Ivan Abrams, an attorney for Brown and his company MacKnight International Inc, told the Miami Herald, "We believe the sole reason our client is in this position -- an unconstitutional tax assessment -- is because of the shape and the style and the look of this boat. If it were designed like any other yacht, we don't think we'd be in this position."


Fair point.


But the guvmint isn't having it. A spokesperson confirmed that the Arkup is the only "floating structure" that got hit with a tax bill. Unsurprisingly, the lawyers have taken issue with this particular detail. If the Arkup can be classified as a floating structure, then theoretically every yacht docked in the county that isn't used every day would be subject to taxation as a dwelling.

County officials claim the Arkup “was not built to be primarily used as a means of transportation over water.”


If one were a detective, they might surmise that Mr. Brown's neighbours grew tired of the giant white box blocking their expensive view of the bay. Case in point:

It remains to be seen if the Arkup is gonna pay up, or if will cruise (at a potent 5 knots) out of Miami-Dade County.


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