Riparian Rights

Michigan Riparian Rights Attorneys Assisting With Riparian Rights Disputes

Riparian RightsIf you own land that touches or is near a natural body of water, you may have riparian rights, which is the right to access the water. Riparian rights issues present unique challenges which often require the assistance of an experienced real estate attorney.

The real estate attorneys at Hirzel Law, PLC have experience in riparian rights issues. Our team of real estate attorneys are well-versed in the issues to be considered, such as access issues and the ability to exclude others from your land.

What Are Riparian Rights?

In Michigan, “riparian land” is defined as “a parcel of land which includes therein a part of or is bounded by a natural water course.” Riparian rights are traditional rights that attach to waterfront property by virtue of that property actually meeting the shoreline. They are the rights of the waterfront property owner to gain access to the water or to gain access to their property from the water. Generally speaking, riparian rights may travel with the property regardless of whether they are mentioned in a deed, and they are passed on with the ownership of the waterfront property. They give the waterfront property owner the right to access the water, to use the water in front of their property. Riparian rights may give the waterfront property owner the rights of relatively unobstructed view of the water, and in many cases the rights to access the water or install a dock. Waterfront property owners may gain additional land if the sand or shoreline builds up through accretion. Similarly, waterfront property owners may also lose land when the shoreline changes or due to bluff erosion.

What Is the Definition of Riparian Water Rights?

The Michigan Court of Appeals has defined riparian rights as follows:

Indeed, “ ‘[r]iparian land’ is defined as a parcel of land which includes therein a part of or is bounded by a natural water course.” Thompson v. Enz, 379 Mich. 667, 677, 154 N.W.2d 473 (1967) (opinion of Kavanagh, J.). Further, “[a] ‘riparian proprietor’ is a person who is in possession of riparian lands or who owns an estate therein.” Id. Here, the parties agree that defendant backlot owners are not “riparian owners” because they do not **379 own land adjacent to Pine Lake….

Our Supreme Court has established that persons who own riparian land “enjoy certain exclusive rights,” including the right to erect and maintain docks. Thies v. Howland, 424 Mich. 282, 288, 380 N.W.2d 463 (1985). In contrast, nonriparian lot owners who hold an easement for lake access have the limited “right to use the surface of the water in a reasonable manner for such activities as boating, fishing and swimming.” Id.

Little v Kin, 249 Mich App 502, 508; 644 NW2d 375, 378–79 (2002), aff’d 468 Mich 699; 664 NW2d 749 (2003)

How Can a Real Estate Attorney Assist with Riparian Rights Disputes?

Common Disputes Involving Riparian Property Rights: Given the high number of inland lakes and streams in Michigan, the Michigan courts have had many lawsuits concerning riparian property rights. Many these lawsuits involve disputes between riparian and non-riparian owners. Some of the more common types of disputes include the following:

  • Access Easements: Some riparian properties are burdened by an easement that provides access to the abutting lake by the owners of non-riparian properties – sometimes referred to as “back lot owners.” Riparian owners are sometimes forced to file a lawsuit against the back lot owners, for the purpose of forcing the removal of the docks and boats, or back lot owners are forced to file lawsuits to gain access to water.
  • Outlots; Public Parks: Platted subdivisions sometimes include public parks or outlots that abut a body of water. These parks and outlots tend to create the same types of problems as access easements – over time, the use by back lot owners expands to include activities not permitted by the plat’s dedication, such as dockage, permanent mooring of boats, etc. Legal action is sometimes necessary to force compliance with the plat’s restrictions for the park or outlot.
  • Prescriptive Easements: Even where an access easement does not exist, or where an access easement prohibits dockage or the mooring of boats, back lot owners sometimes trespass over riparian property to obtain access to the waters, or to wrongfully install docks and moor boats. If this wrongful activity is left unchecked for a long period of time (i.e., fifteen years or more), the back lot owners might argue that they have obtained a “prescriptive easement,” allowing them to continue the wrongful use. Lawsuits over alleged prescriptive rights can be drawn-out and expensive, and so diligence is required by riparian owners to ensure that these types of situations do not develop.

Contact Our Riparian Rights Lawyers for Help with Disputes

Riparian Rights can be difficult to understand but having an experienced riparian rights lawyer can help. At Hirzel Law, PLC, our Michigan riparian rights lawyers can help you with any disputes that may arise. We stand by our clients, offering the highest quality legal representation and promptly responding to our clients’ needs.

Contact Hirzel Law online or call 248-986-2921 (Farmington) or 231-486-5600 (Traverse City) or 616-319-9964 (Grand Rapids office) to see how our Michigan riparian rights attorneys can help with riparian rights issues on your Michigan property.

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