Superior Court says Port of Poulsbo can auction boat, boathouse to recoup delinquent moorage fees

POULSBO — A Kitsap County Superior Court judge has ruled that the Port of Poulsbo can auction a boat owner’s boat and boathouse, moored at the marina, to recoup unpaid moorage fees.

In his lawsuit to prevent the sale, boat owner John D. Zetty of Hansville prevailed in August when the court ruled that port officials didn’t provide proof that various notices to Zetty had been sent by certified mail. The court also ordered that the port could not deny Zetty access to his boat or boathouse.

The port later provided copies of certified mail receipts signed by Zetty, however, and Superior Court Judge Anna M. Laurie lifted the injunction March 21 and scheduled a hearing for April 11 “for a determination of amounts owed to the port.”

The case is significant because Zetty’s was the first legal challenge to how the port deals with boat owners who are delinquent on their moorage payments.

Moorage payments are due on the first of the month and are considered late on the 11th. They are considered “delinquent” if 30 days late.

According to court documents:

Zetty was delinquent on his moorage payment three times within an 18-month period: May 2011, April 2012 and January 2013. In accordance with port policy, he was notified after his second delinquency that he could remain a port tenant if he made monthly payments by electronic transfer from his bank account, and that any future delinquency would result in immediate termination of his lease. Zetty did not agree to electronic payments.

After his third delinquency, the port notified him in writing that his lease was terminated and he that he must remove his boat and boathouse.

Since the port terminated Zetty’s lease, the port has refused to accept payments from him because “that could imply reinstatement of his moorage agreement,” Port Manager Brad Miller said. According to the port, the port offered Zetty the opportunity to pay his delinquent moorage fees provided he agreed in writing that the payment didn’t create an extension of his lease, but Zetty declined.

Zetty’s in a tight spot. While his boat and boathouse remain at the marina, he is being charged monthly moorage fees. Add attorney’s fees and late fees, and the port claims Zetty owes $19,803.79.

“It’s more now because we’ve incurred more costs,” Miller said. “Because his moorage was terminated a year ago and because he did not leave, he’s considered a squatter and he’s incurring more costs.”

Meanwhile, Zetty fears losing his 37-foot Owens, which he said has been in his family for 40 years. And, he claims in court documents, he can’t find a place for his boathouse.

“Without the boathouse for protection, the boat will not survive the elements uncovered and will not be restorable. A classic Pacific Northwest wooden boat will be lost,” Zetty wrote to the court. “This constitutes irreparable harm to me. Not only in terms of dollars and cents, but the personal sentimental value and anguish [of] seeing this boat, that has been in my family since I was a boy, destroyed.”

Of the 17 boathouses in the Port of Poulsbo Marina, 16 are individually owned; one is owned by the port.

“It’s basically just a shell to keep weather off the boat,” Miller said. “It floats. It’s a separate structure that is attached by chain and steel bar to the dock. Boathouses can be detached from docks and towed. The difficulty is, finding someplace to tow it to.”

The court will determine on April 11 how much money Zetty owes the port. The port commission will approve a resolution on April 17 authorizing the auction and an auction notice will be published. The auction can be held 30 days after the date of the ad.

A boathouse owner pays moorage on the boathouse only, not the boat moored within. That means the owner pays a moorage fee whether he or she has a boat in the boathouse or not. The moorage fee for a boathouse is 40 cents per square foot; at 722 square feet, Zetty’s moorage fee is $288.80 per month.

Miller said the boat and boathouse will “more than likely” be auctioned separately. The minimum bid? “We’ll know on April 11 after the court hearing,” Miller said.

Whoever buys the boat will have to move it and get on the waiting list for a permanent slip, if desired. But Miller said the Port Commission hasn’t decided whether the buyer of the boathouse will have to move it — remember, Miller said it'll be hard to find another marina to move it to. That creates an interesting scenario: If the boathouse is allowed to stay, its buyer would be able to use it, jumping ahead of 27 boaters on the waiting list for a permanent slip as of Feb. 24.

In court documents, Zetty said boaters have been willing to buy his boat from him for $35,000. In court documents, Miller said the assessed value of Zetty’s 722-square-foot boathouse is $7,545.

Zetty could conceivably submit a winning bid for his boat and boathouse. “He can buy it at auction. But he would still have to leave,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Miller said “only one other” port tenant is delinquent on a moorage payment. “We have no other problems right now,” he said.

The case is titled John D. Zetty vs. Port of Poulsbo. The case number is 13-2-01719-1.


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