Florida is blessed with nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways, and approximately 7,700 lakes over 10 acres in size. While this results in bountiful waterfront properties, it is also limited. The right to use and enjoy the water here in Florida is governed by Riparian law. Before you purchase waterfront property, it is important that you gain an understanding of the riparian rights and responsibilities that come with it.
What are Riparian Rights?
Riparian rights are those incidents 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. Such rights are not of a proprietary nature. Riparian rights have their origins in English common law. Riparian water rights exist in many jurisdictions with common law heritage, such as Canada, and Australia. and states in the eastern United States.
Here, Florida courts have addressed the extent and nature of riparian rights for more than a century. Recently the Florida legislature has attempted to clarify these rights, although they are far from clearly settled. In some cases, Florida common law and statutory provisions conflict with one another.
Please note that riparian law varies from state to state.
Riparian Rights in Florida
The Riparian rights system in Florida allows the state to hold title to all submerged lands under navigable waters. However, riparian rights can grant waterfront property owners the following potential rights:
The right to access the water
The right to the view of the water
The right to land accretion and reliction
The right to use the water
The right to build a dock
In order for your waterfront property to be granted riparian rights, your land must extend all the way to the high tide watermark. If the boundary of the lot ends before, or just shy of the high tide watermark, you may not be granted riparian rights. If the riparian rights are not clearly indicated in the deed, you should have a survey done to have a clear understanding of the lot boundaries.
It is also important to review the chain of title before purchasing the waterfront property to make sure that the riparian rights are attached and intact. While riparian rights in Florida are generally appurtenant to and inseparable from the riparian rights, they may be severed and sold from a property in certain unique cases.
Riparian Rights and Responsibilities
Waterfront property owners with riparian rights have certain rights that have been established by common law. These are:
The right to receive flows of water in its natural state
The right to protect their property from flooding and erosion
The right to fish on their watercourse (abiding by any necessary licenses)
The right to take water, called abstraction, for domestic purposes (with certain restrictions)
Likewise, waterfront property owners have the following responsibilities:
To keep the watercourse and its banks in good condition and free from obstructions so that water and fish pass freely
The responsibility not to pollute the watercourse or interfere with its quality.
Common Concerns and Issues with Waterfront Property
Because Florida common law and statutory provisions sometimes conflict with each other, riparian rights are not always clear to potential property owners. Conflicts with other waterfront property owners may arise from time to time, and these can get tense. After all, waterfront property is coveted, especially here in Florida.
The following are common issues that waterfront property owners may face:
Governmental denial of permits
Public access to other public rights
Restrictive covenants and/or deed restrictions
Quiet title actions
Making Sense of Riparian Rights
Ownership of waterfront property is desirable and often involves unique real property considerations. It is often difficult to distinguish where the private land rights stop and the sovereign land ownership begins. Waterfront property owners need to be aware of their riparian rights and the remedies available for curing alleged violations of these rights.
If you are thinking about purchasing waterfront property, or are having an issue with existing waterfront property, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
I’m Rob Robinson, and I have been practicing law in Florida for over three decades. I am also an avid fisherman and scuba diver. I enjoy the water and can appreciate those who one property on the many watercourses of Florida. Most importantly, I understand riparian law and will fight for your rights having worked extensively with local governments and land/water use issues. Being a solo practitioner, I can ensure that your legal matters are handled with individualized care and attention.