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Gowanus Canal Houseboats: Green Living, Or Illegal?

First Posted: 05/16/11 02:58 PM ET Updated: 07/16/11 06:12 AM ET

One man's $500 million EPA superfund site is another man's home.

The New York Post has an article today about the four houseboats currently docked in Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal--one of the country's most-polluted waterways--that have so far evaded inspection from the city agencies who monitor safety regulations.

Three of the boats, the Post describes, are occupied by "hipster twenty-somethings", known in the neighborhood for throwing wild canal parties late into the night, and by "pretty girls sunbathing on the decks" during the day--none of whom are currently required to to pay any rent.

The fourth houseboat, docked a little further South on the canal, is home to Adam Katzman, an environmentalist who's been living in the 350 square foot "Jerko" for the about two years.

Katzman bought the boat for $1, according to Back to Nature NYC, and then equipped it with a homemade rain harvesting and filtration system, solar panels and a “humanure” composting toilet--all in an experiment to live autonomously and without the aide of many modern technologies:

Watch a short doc on one of the boat-dwellers from Yardena Schwartz and Gianna Palmer:

The Off-Gridder from Yardena Schwartz on Vimeo.

The future of Katzman and his water-bound neighbors is unclear. Although all the canal houseboaters have docking permission from the local property owners, none have yet to pass city Buildings and Fire department safety inspections to be considered legal.

A city official told the Post it’s “highly unlikely” the city would allow houseboats on the Gowanus, adding the residents could face fines for docking “illegally".

It wouldn't be the first time Brooklyn's "off the grid" subculture would find itself in a spat with the city. Most recently, the Brooklyn Project For The Arts, a group who occupied an abandoned lot in Bushwick with a makeshift trailer park, were forced out of their trailers and then evicted from a warehouse for Buildings and Fire code violations.

Houseboat owners don’t pay a property tax in New York City, but many buy permits to dock at designated spots, such as the Boat Basin in Manhattan.

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Filed by Christopher Mathias  |