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What are Riparian Rights?

Riparian rights are granted to owners of waterfront properties situated along a lake, stream, or river.  Basically, landowners can use the waters as they please as long as their activities don’t disturb neighbors that own properties upstream or downstream.  Littoral rights apply to owners with land situated along navigable lakes and oceans.  Littoral rights grant owners unrestricted access to the waters.  Their property line is placed at the median high water mark, any land beyond this point belongs to the government.  The distinction between littoral and riparian rights is often ignored, and the term riparian right is commonly used to describe property rights in both categories.

alt="Riparian rights depicted by beachfront homes behind a sea wall with turquoise waves crashing against it"

 

Riparian rights are granted when a landowner’s property line extends to the high water mark.  When purchasing a property that is adjacent to a body of water, you need to ensure that the land is truly waterfront.

  • Have your lawyer review the property description in the deed
  • Get an opinion of title issued by your attorney.  He or she will review the chain of title to ensure that the water rights have not been severed from the land.
  • Order a survey

 

Florida Riparian Rights

Navigable waters that existed when Florida was founded in 1845 are owned by the state and riparian rights are granted to all landowners of property adjacent to the waterway. Florida Statute 253.141 states, Riparian rights are those incident to land bordering upon navigable waters. They are rights of ingress, egress, boating, bathing, and fishing and such others as may be or have been defined by law.”

In addition to these general rights, which are also granted to the general public, there are special riparian rights that are reserved for waterfront property owners.  These special rights include:

  • Access from the body of water to the riparian land
  • To wharf out to navigability: Permitted to build a dock or pier over state-owned submerged land in order to access navigable waters
  • Right to accretions and relictions: Accretion occurs when sand or sediment accumulates over time to form new land.  Reliction occurs when submerged lands are revealed by receding water.  In both instances, the median high water mark is pushed back resulting in a larger property for riparian owners.
  • To maintain an unobstructed water view: This right is unique to Florida.  Obstructing a water view can negatively impact the value of waterfront property.  If an individual, corporation, or government entity does obstruct your view, you may be eligible for compensation.

 

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