A Houseboat is Not a Homestead In Texas

March 7, 2007

The recent case of Norris v. Thomas says that “a motorized waterborne vessel, used as a primary residence, and otherwise fulfilling all of the requirements of a homestead, except attachment to land, does not qualify for the homestead exemption under Article 16, §§ 50 and 51 of the Texas Constitution.” The proper test for whether a residence attains homestead status is whether the attachment to land is sufficient to make the personal property a permanent part of the realty. Significantly, both the Constitution and the Property Code use the word “thereon” when describing any protected homestead improvements; the Constitution also stipulates “on the land,” which is plainly not the same as “in the water.”

Homestead. Requirements for Qualification.
In order to qualify as a homestead, a residence must rest on the land and have a requisite degree of physical permanency, immobility, and attachment to fixed realty. A dock-based umbilical cord providing water, electricity, and phone service may help make a boat habitable, but the attachment to land is too slight to warrant homestead protection.

Homestead. A House Can Be A Homestead As In Improvement To Unowned Land.
A house can be a homestead even if the owner has no ownership interest in the land. The term “improvements” as protected by article XVI, section 51 includes the residence itself. The term “improvements” to real property is distinguished from mere personalty. Personalty does not constitute an improvement until it is annexed to realty. There can be no improvement without annexation to realty, and until personalty is annexed to realty, it by definition cannot be an improvement. Not only that, but the annexed object cannot be deemed an improvement to land unless it is intended to be a permanent addition to the realty. Homestead protection turns not on who owns the underlying land, but on the degree to which the residence “thereon” or “on the land” is attached to it.