Riparian Rights in Florida


Rooted in English common law, the ownership of lands beneath navigable waters originally belonged to the sovereign or the King. When Florida became a state in 1845, it assumed ownership of these sovereignty lands, as enshrined in the Florida constitution under article 10, section 11. This provision states that the state holds the title to land beneath navigable waters within its boundaries by virtue of its sovereignty, in trust for all its citizens.

The demarcation between sovereignty land and privately owned land is established by the mean high-water line along the shores of land directly abutting navigable waters.

Riparian rights pertain to the entitlements of landowners whose properties border navigable waters. Such rights encompass various privileges, including ingress and egress to the water, boating, bathing, fishing, viewing, and other rights defined by statutes or caselaw.

Among these rights, one of the most significant in Florida is the right to construct a dock. This right, like all riparian rights, is considered a property right that cannot be arbitrarily revoked without due process of law. However, the right to build a dock is not without limitations; it is subject to permits and reasonable restrictions, especially in areas declared as aquatic preserves or manatee protection areas. This means that private docks can still be built in such areas, but certain regulations may apply.

Conflicting riparian rights between neighboring property owners can arise, particularly when the shoreline is curved. Building docks perpendicular to property lines might not be feasible if they would intersect with each other or obstruct a neighbor’s riparian right to the view of the water. In such instances, the law encourages reasonable accommodation between neighboring property owners. If no compromise is reached, the court may intervene to resolve the matter.

For any riparian construction, it is essential for property owners to secure all necessary permits from local, state, and federal agencies before commencing the project. Being compliant with regulations ensures a smoother and legally sound process.

If you have questions or need guidance regarding riparian rights and waterfront property development, feel free to seek assistance from our experienced team. We can help you navigate the complexities and ensure your rights are protected throughout the process.

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