Important Rights of Waterfront Owners

There are opinions abound on what waterfront owners can or can’t do. Opinions are like noses — everybody has one. And like noses, we should keep them out of other people’s business.

Im not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice. But I held a real estate license for several years, listed and sold lake fronts and bought and sold several myself. I studied real estate law as it applies to rights of waterfront property owners. That said get a lawyer if you need one.

Waterfront property comes with special, specific sets of legal rights.

If you are on a lake — you have “Littoral Rights”

If you are on a river — you have “Riparian Rights”

“Riparian” is often used regarding lake property — it’s common, but it’s wrong.

Riparian rights concern “navigable” rivers. My focus of this post however is…

On Lakes You have Littoral Rights

One of your Littoral Rights states you own the lake bottom, in a “pie shape” from your property lines on shore to the (theoretical) center of the lake. You don’t own the water, but you do own the dirt. THAT’S A BIG DEAL, I will explain in a second.

In your “bundle” of littoral rights, two relate to lake weed control and lake bottoms. They are — “Quiet Enjoyment” and “Ingress Egress.”

You have right to Quiet Enjoymentof your lake.

To quietly enjoy your property, you must be allowed to make it “clean, comfortable and usable,” (these terms may vary by state, but the idea is the same).

Clearing lake weeds from a limited area certainly qualifies as making the beach “clean, comfortable and usable,” so you can enjoy it. This is so simple and obvious; I’m surprised it’s not brought up more.

Making a lake bottom “walkable” is essential to making a property “usable.” Just as you can walk on your own dry property, your Littoral Rights state you own the lake bottom. You have the right to make it “walkable,” to quietly enjoy your waterfront. That’s why owning the lake bottom is a big deal… and using a MuckMat Pro is a great idea.

You have right of “Ingress and Egress” on your lake

This means you have the right to bring watercraft (or swim) “in and out” to open water. Seems obvious enough. But what if there’s 50 yards of lily pads between your shore and open water? The neighbors think they’re pretty and your local DNR officer says lilies are protected and won’t issue a permit to remove any.

You argue your Right of Ingress and Egress gives you legal authority to “clear” a waterway up to a certain width (they vary between 12 and 30 feet wide) to open water. Whether it’s 10 yards or 200 yards long, you have the Right of Ingress and Egress to exercise your Right of Quiet Enjoyment of the lake.

Of course, interpretations make things more complex and you probably know, legal issues are seldom cut and dry. There are environmental and other considerations.

Still, knowing you have these rights, I hope you feel more confident the law is on your side, (at least it should be).

If you need an attorney regarding waterfront property, find one who specializes in waterfront real estate — and make sure that lawyer is a good one.