Do maritime salvage laws apply to my apartment?
January 20, 2010 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I live in an apartment near the ocean, facing an interior courtyard. Are there any circumstances where if a Tornado picks up a boat from the ocean and drops it into the courtyard, I am allowed to salvage from it? What if it lands on my balcony, or breaks into smaller pieces? This is especially topical since I live in Los Angeles.
posted by Lord_Pall to Law & Government (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My not-a-lawyer understanding is that your landlord would have the option to salvage it. I grew up in a house at the end of a runway of a small airport and a few times during my childhood, small planes would actually land/crash in our yard. My mother made a big deal about the fact that the planes did technically belong to us or that we had salvage rights. She may or may not have been correct. In any case, we let the people take their planes back.
posted by jessamyn at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're a renter then you don't have any kind of rights over the land, salvage included.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:23 AM on January 20, 2010

I am not your lawyer, or an admiralty lawyer.

However, it strikes me that the fundamental and obvious difference between your hypothetical and marine salvage is that you are not on the high seas. Admiralty gives (as I understand it) an incentive to rescuers to perform generally high-risk rescues at sea, and so a rescuer is entitled to an interest in salvaged goods that otherwise would have sunk into the sea. Otherwise, who would bother?

Contrast the scenario where a boat ends up on your property. There is no inherent risk--yes, you could hurt yourself, and there is a risk of damage to your property, but the wreck won't sink. And, of course, because this takes place ON LAND, admiralty law will give way to the property and tort law in your jurisdiction.

The general law school hornbook answer is that a land owner who finds another's property on his land is entitled to be compensated for damages to the land by the property, but the property itself is still owned by its rightful owner, assuming that this was not an intentional trespass. In certain cases, the property owner would be entitled to enter the land to retrieve the property, but would be liable to the land owner for any damage caused by its removal.

I am pretty confident neither you, OP, or Jessamyn's family have any salvage rights to vehicles on your property.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

What if it breaks into smaller pieces? When does it cease to be a vehicle and becomes simply debris?

Or does smashing something into smaller bits not change it's legal status, so a space ship that crashes is still a spaceship even if the pieces are very tiny...
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2010

Or does smashing something into smaller bits not change it's legal status, so a space ship that crashes is still a spaceship even if the pieces are very tiny...

You would then be up against the Federal government. This has pretty much crashed into chatfilterville, however.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:38 AM on January 20, 2010

I'm not suggesting that it has anything to do with the property being a vehicle. It doesn't belong to you. You don't just get to keep things that belong to other people just because misfortune caused the property to end up on your land.

Think of it this way: a strong wind blows your wallet from your hand as you walk by my property. Do I get to keep your wallet?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:41 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might get some perspective from the Marine Salvage entry in wikipedia.
posted by gyusan at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2010

My family's old boat did just this during Hurricane Bob. It dragged its mooring 2 miles and jumped 500 feet up a cliff on to someone's oceanfront property. After some searching around we found the boat missing half its side with contents strewn about the person's yard.

We removed our boat and associated peripherals and that was pretty much that. The man who owned the land had absolutely no claim on our vessel. This was in Mass.
posted by nursegracer at 9:04 PM on January 20, 2010

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