Water Rights Litigation in the Florida Keys

Water Rights Litigation in the Florida Keys

Both Key Largo and Key West are popular vacation spots. Waterfront property, with its sandy beaches and scenic ocean views, is especially desirable. If you own property abutting a body of water in the Keys, it is important to understand your rights to the adjacent water.

Riparian Rights

Florida uses the riparian rights system to allocate water rights. Under the riparian system, those who own property adjacent to water have the right to make use of the water as it flows over or through their land. In the Keys, common rights associated with water include:

  • Ingress and egress;
  • General use;
  • Docking;
  • Views of the water; and
  • Accretions caused by shifting sands and changes in the water level.

Disputes may arise between riparian property owners and others who wish to use their water, or between neighboring waterfront property owners. The state of Florida owns the land under navigable waters, so disputes may also arise between landowners and the state.

Ingress and Egress

Access to the water is an important benefit of waterfront property ownership. For those who do not own riparian property, easements may convey the rights to access to the water over another’s property.

General Use

General uses of water adjoining land include activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming. Riparian owners have the right to use the water adjoining their property in whatever reasonable manner they desire.

Docking

Riparian owners have the right to build docks and piers from their land into the water. Constructing a dock does not give a riparian owner rights to the submerged land beneath the dock, however. And property owners may not construct docks that interfere with navigable waters. In a docking dispute, the first step is always to determine who owns the land on which the dock is constructed.

Views

Waterfront property owners generally have the right to an unobstructed view of the water adjoining their lots, but this right only extends as wide as the property line. If another person or entity creates a substantial and material obstruction to a landowner’s view, the property owner may be able to recover damages to compensate for the lost property value.

Obstructions do not have to be on the landowner’s property to be compensable; they may also include structures on another’s property that ruins the view, for example, a bridge. Shorelines do not always coordinate perfectly with property lines, so each situation must be individually assessed to determine the extent of the rights.

Accretions

Tides, shifting sands, floods, and droughts can create new land or submerge land, causing property lines to change. The build-up of land due to accumulation of sand or soil is called an accretion, and a reliction occurs when land is exposed because the water level drops. Generally, a property owner, rather than the state, has the right to any accretions and relictions caused by natural means.

Water rights can be complex. If you have a dispute regarding water rights in the Keys, please contact a water law attorney at the Silver Law Group for an initial consultation.