Dock Rights and Waterfront Property

Molo allagato sul Lago Trasimeno, ItaliaSovereign rights and riparian rights are terms often used when conducting due diligence with respect to the purchase of waterfront property in Florida. So, what do these terms have to do with your right to have dock extending from your waterfront property?  Well, the answer is everything!

When Florida became a state in 1845, it was granted title to the lands beneath navigable waters and tidelands by virtue of its sovereignty.  As a result of Florida’s sovereign rights, Florida claims ownership interest in all beds and bottoms of navigable rivers, bayous, lagoons, lakes, bays, sounds, inlets, oceans, gulfs and other bodies of water within the geographical boundaries of Florida.  As a result of Florida’s sovereign rights it can be difficult to distinguish exactly where private land rights end and the state sovereign land rights begin.  Out of this confusion, the term “riparian rights” was born.

Riparian rights are those that attach to LAND BORDERING UPON NAVIGABLE WATERS and include the rights of ingress, egress, docking, boating, bathing, fishing and the right to an unobstructed view of the water.  Such rights inure to the upland owner of the upland.  I hope you all noticed that LAND BORDERING UPON NAVIGABLE WATERS is in bold and all caps, which means that it is an important distinguishing factor with respect to riparian rights and ultimately your ability to build that dock you always wanted or keep that dock you thought you owned!

For example, the 4th District Court of Appeal recently held the city’s denial of a property owner’s permit to build a dock on submerged lands was proper because the property owner’s land did not abut navigable waters.  In that case, the property owner argued that the city’s denial of his permit was improper because his land was adjacent to navigable water and as such he had the right to build a dock.  In reviewing the chain of title, the court was able to determine that a gap existed between the property and the navigable waters.  Thus, the court was correct in determining property owner had no riparian rights and thus no legal right to build a dock.  See Whetstone v. City of St. Augustine, Florida, No. 5D14-3628 (Fla. 4th DCA Feb. 12, 2016).

The takeaway here is that a gap between the property and the bordering navigable waters could have a very significant and costly impact on that property you thought was waterfront.  As in the above example, it could mean that you have no riparian rights whatsoever.  Obviously, this is a very brief explanation of two very complex terms and only one example of numerous issues that could come up when purchasing waterfront property.  As such, we strongly recommend the use of a real estate attorney with waterfront experience to assist you in your acquisition of waterfront property.  Should you have any questions regarding the foregoing, we urge you to consult with your real estate attorney.


Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC

Article Authored by Will McComb, Esq.

This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.

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