When you purchase waterfront property in Florida, it’s vital you understand whether riparian rights come with it.
After all, why pay a premium for waterfront land if you can’t use the water?
In Florida, the right to use and enjoy the water that adjoins your land is governed by riparian law.
For this reason, you should learn the basics of how these laws work.
And in this blog, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started!
1. What are riparian rights?
Riparian rights originate from English Common Law.
The term “riparian” is related to properties along rivers and streams.
“Littoral” rights refer only to properties along oceans and lakes.
However, this distinction is often ignored, so you may see riparian rights used in reference to all bodies of water.
The riparian rights system in Florida allows the state to hold title to all submerged lands under “navigable waters.”
Yet, riparian rights can grant waterfront property owners the following potential rights:
2. What do riparian rights grant owners the right to do?
If a landowner has riparian rights, they may have the right to:
In Florida, riparian rights also provide the right to an unobstructed view of the water.
3. How can you tell if waterfront land has riparian rights in Florida?
If you recently purchased land near water in Florida, you may wonder if your property grants you riparian rights.
In order for this to be the case, your land must extend all the way to the high tide watermark.
Initially, you may think that you have a waterfront property, but if the boundary of the lot ends at all shy of the high tide watermark, then you may not be granted riparian rights.
So, put it on your list of things to check when doing due diligence.
Have an attorney review the property description in the deed.
If riparian rights are not mentioned in the deed, then you should have a survey done to clearly understand the lot boundaries.
4. Can riparian rights be severed in Florida?
What does it mean to have rights severed?
Sometimes landowners may wish to sell the land itself but retain ownership of the riparian rights.
This means that someone else would own the land itself, but you would dictate what happens with the water on your land.
Riparian rights in Florida are appurtenant to and inseparable from the riparian land, but in some unique circumstances they can be severed and sold from a property.
However, keep in mind that this isn’t common.
Still, you should review the chain of title before purchasing property to ensure that the riparian rights are attached and intact.
We recommend working with a real estate agent who specializes in riparian rights when you are buying or selling a waterfront property.
5. Do riparian rights include the right to build a dock?
If you’re looking at a waterfront property in Florida that doesn’t include a dock or other marine structures, you may wonder if you’re able to add one.
Fortunately, this right — the right of an upland owner to “wharf out” to navigable waters — is intrinsic to their riparian rights.
This structure may also include a boathouse or area for sitting, fishing, or other activities relating to your use and enjoyment of the water.
Just note that, per the Florida Bar, this right is a qualified one, so you should check with a lawyer before purchasing land.
6. Do Florida landowners have the right to accretions?
Accretions occur when sand or natural sediments accumulate and form a build-up of new land.
These accretions can change the location of the high tide watermark and extend it out and away from the existing property boundary.
According to the Florida Bar, the right to accretion is included in a property owner’s riparian rights, but again, there are some qualifications so you should speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your land.
7. How do easements work with riparian rights?
When you’re purchasing a waterfront property, you should keep in mind that you may not be the only person with the right to use your property to access the water.
In fact, developers of subdivisions often create easements whereby owners of non-waterfront properties gain access to the water.
So, how do these easements work?
They grant the dominant property owners (your neighbors) the same riparian rights as the servient property owner (you).
You’ll see the easements work in a few different ways if they exist.
Your neighbors may have the following rights:
You may see this easement written specifically in your deed, or it may be included in the subdivision plat or other document.
We recommend investigating any potential easements before purchasing a property.
Easements can become a point of conflict between neighbors, and you’ll want to know if there’s a potential court battle in your future (and how to avoid one).
8. Do you have a right to an unobstructed view in Florida?
Believe it or not, yes.
According to the Florida Bar, Florida grants its landowners the right to an unobstructed view.
One relevant case is Lee County v. Kiesel.
In this instance, the local government built a bridge that substantially blocked the view of the water from the Kiesel’s property.
The court found that the construction of the bridge deprived the landowners of their right to an unobstructed view.
Thus, they ruled in favor of the upland owners for damages to their property value.
So, when researching properties, be sure to evaluate any construction that may be planned by neighbors or the local government.
After all, views are often obstructed by the construction of fences, boathouses, planting of trees, etc.
9. How are disputes over riparian rights resolved?
Disputes between neighbors over riparian rights can be tense.
They often end up in court for months or years, costing landowners thousands of dollars.
Before you purchase a property, we encourage you to conduct extensive due diligence.
This will involve talking to neighboring property owners, reviewing subdivision plans, and contacting local municipalities.
When in doubt, partner with a real estate professional who specializes in waterfront properties.
They’ll be able to provide insight to save you both time and money.
10. What are the most common types of issues that waterfront owners face?
Below, we’ve listed the most common types of issues that waterfront owners face.
If you’re experiencing issues with these problems, then you may want to reach out for assistance from an attorney:
11. Do water laws vary from state to state?
Yes, riparian law varies from state to state.
In fact, water law in the U.S. changes depending on which side of the continent you’re on.
Most Eastern states fall under the riparian doctrine while most Western states follow the prior appropriation doctrine.
If you want to better understand your water or riparian rights in Florida, then you should partner with a real estate lawyer for your specific case.
By working with your specific set of facts, they can compare relevant cases, appropriate statutes, etc. to let you know how likely you are to achieve your desired result.
Overall, waterfront land is a great investment.
Just know that it poses some risks.
If you currently own or hope to own waterfront property in Florida, then you should have a basic understanding of riparian rights.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.