We have recently received an interesting case of a barge that was being lived on and was the primary asset of the judgment debtor.
New streamlined procedures that make it easier for landlords to use a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) to evict residential tenants came into force on 23rd August 2020.
We had been instructed to enforce a writ of fieri facias (fi fa) (now called a writ of control) for money; it was not a repossession of the barge.
Property or chattel?
The big question was that, as it was someone’s home, could the barge be seized and removed as a chattel or did it count as property, and would therefore be outside the scope of a writ of control?
Seizure of boats
Boats can, of course, be seized under a writ of control. There are a number of procedures that need to be followed.
To summarise, the enforcement officer will need to go on board to attach a copy of the writ to the mast. It is normal practice to also put a copy of the writ in the bridge as well so that the captain and crew are in no doubt that the boat has been seized. You can read more detail about the seizure of boats and ships in this article Ship Ahoy.
When deciding what course of action to take in this case, we worked closely with the judgment creditor's solicitor.
The case law we all considered is the case of Chelsea Yacht & Boat Co. v Pope . The case established that a houseboat was held to be a chattel despite being held to the land by mooring ropes, a chain, an anchor and various service pipes and cables. This is because this mooring is insufficient to say that the boat forms part of the land.
We did also consider another case, that of Cave v Capel (1954), where a bailiff removed a caravan where the occupant was still inside. The ruling in that case was that the bailiff was guilty of unlawful imprisonment because the occupant was inside. The actual seizure and removal of the caravan was not the issue.
Our conclusion was that High Court Enforcement Officers can seize and remove a houseboat under a writ of fi fa, provided there is no one on board at the time, on the basis that the boat is considered to be a chattel. So, providing the client wishes to proceed, we will be enforcing on the basis.