Landowners’ Dock Rights: Riparian and Littoral Rights Under Florida Law
South Florida boasts spectacular waterways and offers coastal living at its best. In the Fort Lauderdale area, residents enjoy close proximity to the sea and can enjoy water recreation and relaxation all year long. Of course, some landowners live closer to the sea than others. For some of those landowners, who have direct access to water from their properties, there are particular property laws to be aware of that uniquely apply to and govern their water rights.
Riparian and Littoral Rights
Included among landowners’ water rights at common law are riparian and littoral rights. Historically, under Florida law, riparian rights are rights to use water that technically apply to owners of land abutting non-tidal or navigable river waters while littoral rights are those that refer to land abutting navigable ocean, sea or lake waters. Generally, the terms riparian and littoral rights are now used interchangeably to cover the following rights:
- the right to the view of the water
- the right to use the water
- the right to access the water
- the right to land accretion and reliction
A landowner’s water rights are also subject to what is known as the public trust doctrine, which generally recognizes the public’s right to natural resources. This doctrine is also contained in the Florida Constitution, which generally provides that title to lands under navigable waters is held by the state in trust for its citizens.
Water Rights Disputes in Florida, An Example: BB Inlet Property, LLC v. 920 N. Stanley Partners, LLC
In BB Inlet Property, LLC v. 920 N. Stanley Partners, LLC, the appellate court was called upon to resolve a dispute between property owners (an upland property owner and a submerged property owner) over one owner’s right to retain a dock. The dock was located on privately-owned submerged land and was the only means for an upland property owner’s access to the Intracoastal waterway (which was the nearest navigable waterway). The lower court found that there was no issue of any material fact and entered summary judgment for the upland property owner. On appeal, the submerged landowner argued that the installation of the dock and its use violated riparian rights, the dock was originally built without the submerged landowner’s consent, the dock encroached on the submerged landowner’s property rights, the dock was not constructed in accordance with applicable regulations. The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision, finding that that the dock was built in compliance with applicable regulations, and that the upland property owner was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
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Buying, renting or owning property that includes water rights involves special considerations for landowners and tenants. As the BB Inlet Property, LLC v. 920 N. Stanley Partners, LLC illustrates, disputes between property owners and litigation over water rights and waterways can occur. For real estate transactions that involve water rights in Fort Lauderdale, it is advisable to speak with an experienced real estate lawyer. The experienced Fort Lauderdale real estate lawyers at Sweeney Law, P.A. also represent property owners, landlords and tenants, and HOA and condominium associations in the full range of real estate litigation.