COLUMBIA — It’s not a boat or a house or a dock. It’s a “river shack,” and South Carolina regulators have been at war with wily shack owners for years.
In 2007, the S.C. Legislature said the floating homes could stay put, provided the owners purchased a 5-year permit, which would not be renewed.
Those permits have expired, and in the last year, owners have scrambled to outwit regulators by trying to pass their shacks off as watercraft by seeking titles and boat registrations for them.
“We had one individual that basically built a house out there,” Mike Sabaka, a law enforcement captain for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, addressing a Senate panel Feb. 19.
“He put an outboard motor on the back of it and said, ‘If I unhook this thing (house), and I crank that motor up, I can drive it across the lake.’”
A key problem is that it’s hard to steer a house across a water body if the motor operator’s view is obstructed by the house.
The S.C. Attorney General’s office has also been involved in providing removal notices to shack owners.
The nuisance of living structures either left to decay or occupied with no sanitary sewage disposal has turned law enforcement toward a new, tougher state regulation.
On Feb. 19, a Senate panel approved the proposal, which would target the floating dwellings by narrowly defining what constitutes a legal one.
Under the new regulation, a legitimate homemade watercraft will have to meet certain standards. For one thing, it must have the navigational visibility of a typical boat. It must also have a proper marine toilet and the ability to move on the water. A fourth stipulation is that it can’t be a floating dock.
Part of the dilemma is defining what it is the natural resources agency wants to outlaw.
Attempting to define “river shack,” Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said: “It’s a floating object that’s capable of being inhabited, and is primarily used to be inhabited, and does not really engage in navigation.”
Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield, wondered if the proposal would be “giving them an out by making the shack more of a boat.”
Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, remembered in 2007 when officials had “hundreds” of river shacks to contend with.
“Many were abandoned,” he said. “It’s nothing more than poaching on the border of other people’s property.”
Sabaka said some owners voluntarily dismantled their homes ahead of the five-year deadline. But not enough. “It takes a lot to go in there and get that thing removed,” he said. “And it costs money to get it out and tear it down.”