I researched an interesting homestead issue today for a client who is considering selling his current single family home and using the proceeds to buy an expensive recreational vehicle which would become his principal residence. The question is whether a recreational vehicle can qualify as a protected homestead under Florida statutes and case law.
There is a Florida Statute (222.05) which discusses what may constitute a dwelling for homestead pruposes. Pursuant to the Statute the term dwelling includes a mobile home. Chapter 320 of the Florida Statutes pertains to motor homes. The Florida Statues do not address the issue of whether a recreational vehicle which has the facilities for residence, such as cooking and toilet, can be considered a “mobile home” for purposes of Section 222.05 and thus eligible for homestead designation.
Only one Florida case has dealt directly with this issue in the bankruptcy context. The Court said that wether an RV is a motor vehicle or a motor home depends on its use as well as its physical characteristics. If the owner permanently parks the RV, lives in the RV, and has no other residence then the RV has the characteristics of a “motor home” and should be protected as homestead property. On the other hand, a recreational vehicle used more for transportation would be more like a “motor vehicle” not eligible for homestead protection rather than a “motor home.” Other court cases have held that a houseboat used as a primary residence can be a dwelling house and a principal residence because a houseboat is similar to a mobile home. Although houseboats can be moved they are not primarily used for transportation.
As in many homestead issues, the facts of any particular case would determine the result. If an RV owner wanted to use the RV as a principal residence and protect the investment under Florida homestead laws he should arrange for a permanently available rented lot with utility facilities has the RV’s permanent location. The more the RV is used as a touring vehicle the less likely homestead protection would apply.
The applicable cases are In re Mangano, 158 B.R. 532, and Miami Country Day School v. Bakst, 641 So. 2d 467.
posted by Jonathan Alper, asset protection and bankruptcy lawyer, Orlando, Florida