Ownership of waterfront property is very desirable in Florida and often involves unique real property considerations. But when we discuss waterfront property in Florida, one of the most attractive and most sought-out features is an incredible water view. When it comes to private waterfront property ownership, it can be difficult to distinguish where the private land rights cease and the sovereign land ownership begins. More difficult is when your neighbor begins construction or activity that actually blocks your waterfront view.
As a result, a subset of real property law has emerged to address what is called “riparian rights.” Riparian rights include the rights of ingress, egress, docking, boating, bathing, fishing and even the right to an unobstructed view of the water. Examples of situations that riparian rights address include: (1) the general use of water adjacent to property, (2) wharfing out to navigability in the channel, (3) actual access to navigable waters; and, (4) the right to accretions. Shore Village Property Owners’ Ass’n, Inc. v. State Dept. of Environmental Protection, 824 So.2d 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). Walton Cnty. v. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc., 998 So.2d 1102, 1111 (Fla.2008), aff’d, Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Fla. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 560 U.S. 702, 130 S.Ct. 2592, 177 L.Ed.2d 184 (2010). Such rights inure to the owner of the upland; however, the actual land covered by the water is not owned by the upland owner. This post will discuss the real property owner’s right to accretions and reliction of the property.
Accretion is the process in which the action of water causes a build-up over time in riparian land through the gradual accumulation of solid material, whether silt, sand, soil, or sediment. This natural process results in the creation of new dry land in an area that was previously covered by water. Riparian owners have the common law right to receive accretions to their lands, so long as the deposits were not of the riparian owner’s own doing. The landowner has a right to the benefit of accretion when there is an issue between the riparian owner and state because the land added to his or her property was solely by a process of nature.
Reliction applies to lands that were once covered by waters, but that have since become uncovered by the gradual recession of the waters. Where there is reliction, if the land was increased by the natural lowering of water, the landowner is entitled to those lands. However, if the water was lowered by some artificial means by the state, the lands remain sovereign lands.
In Save our Beaches, the First District Court of Appeal held that landowners are entitled to the accretion if caused by the state; but that the state may deprive the owners of these rights as long as full compensation is paid. Additionally, the court in Ford v. Turner, held that unless excepted, the title to accretion or reliction to soil passes with the title to the land to which accretions are appurtenant when the Court awarded 100 feet of ocean front property to a landowner because of accretion. Also, in Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Fla. Dept. of Environ. Protection, landowners lost a constitutional challenge to beach renourishment and the United States Supreme Court held that Florida’s beach restoration program was permissible.
In conclusion, within the subset of property law known as riparian rights, Florida law recognizes that waterfront property ownership often results in disputes and litigation among neighboring landowners and the state concerning the use of the shorelines and waterways. Riparian rights ensure that the rights of such property owners are weighed fairly and equitably in regards to their ownership of waterfront property, including the unobstructed view of the water. Ultimately, the goal of riparian rights is to promote a policy of “reasonable use” of the shared shorelines and waterways among private property owners.