Littoral Rights in Real Estate

By: ROS Team

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Dreaming of a beachfront property? Owning land bordering a lake or ocean comes with some unique legal considerations. Littoral rights define the ownership and usage privileges specific to these waterfront properties. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of Littoral Rights in Real Estate, unpacking what they are, and how they differ from riparian rights governing flowing water.

What are Littoral Rights in Real Estate?

Littoral land refers to property bordering a large, non-flowing body of water like a lake, ocean, or sea. Littoral rights, on the other hand, are the legal privileges that come with owning this waterfront land. These rights typically include access to the water for swimming, boating, and fishing, along with the right to build certain structures on the shore, like docks or boathouses.

It’s important to remember that ownership with littoral rights usually only extends to the high-water mark, with the area between high and low tide being public trust land.

Littoral Rights Examples

Example 1: Building a Dock

Imagine you own a beautiful seaside­ property. Due to your littoral rights, you might possess the­ privilege to construct a dock or boathouse on the­ land stretch betwee­n your property boundary and the high-water mark. This facilitate­s easier water acce­ss for swimming, fishing, or launching your boat. However, regulations might e­xist governing the dock’s size and type­, making it crucial to consult local authorities prior to construction.

Example 2: Enjoying the Beach

Littoral rights also guarantee your right to access and de­light in public trust land, which is the area betwe­en the high and low water marks. This pe­rmits you to freely stroll along the be­ach, bask in the sun, swim, and participate in other re­creational activities in this zone.

What are Riparian Rights in Real Estate?

Riparian rights apply to properties that border flowing water, such as rivers or streams. These rights grant the landowner reasonable access and use of the water. This can include withdrawing water for domestic purposes, watering livestock, or even limited recreational activities like boating (depending on the size of the waterway).

Unlike owning the water itself, riparian rights are about benefiting from its presence. Importantly, these rights come with the responsibility to ensure reasonable water use that doesn’t significantly impact downstream riparian owners or the overall health of the waterway.

Littoral Rights vs Riparian Rights: What’s the Difference?

Littoral and riparian rights both grant access and use privileges for waterfront property, but the key difference lies in the type of water body. Littoral rights apply to owners bordering large, non-flowing water like lakes or oceans, offering access for recreation and potentially allowing structures like docks.

Riparian rights, on the other hand, are for owners next to flowing water like rivers, granting reasonable water use for needs like irrigation but with less emphasis on structures on the water’s edge.

Qualities of Littoral and Riparian Land

Littoral and riparian lands share some qualities due to their waterfront nature, but also have distinct characteristics:

Shared Qualities:

  • Waterfront Location: Both littoral and riparian lands border bodies of water, offering scenic views and potential for water-based activities.
  • Higher Property Values: Proximity to water often makes these properties more desirable and expensive compared to landlocked areas.
  • Environmental Sensitivity: Both types of land are often part of sensitive ecosystems and may have regulations to protect the water quality and habitat.


Littoral Land Qualities:

  • Borders Still Water: Littoral land is adjacent to non-flowing bodies of water like lakes, oceans, or seas.
  • Focus on Recreation: Littoral rights often emphasize recreational access to the water, allowing activities like swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • Potential for Structures: Depending on regulations, littoral rights may allow building docks, boathouses, or other structures on the shore, extending enjoyment of the water.
  • Public Trust Land: The area between high and low tide on a beach is usually public trust land, allowing public access for walking, swimming, and recreation.


Riparian Land Qualities:

  • Borders Flowing Water: Riparian land is next to rivers, streams, or creeks with flowing water.
  • Focus on Water Use: Riparian rights prioritize reasonable use of the flowing water for needs like irrigation, drinking for domestic purposes, or limited recreation depending on the waterbody size.
  • Limited Structures: Riparian rights usually don’t extend to building structures in the water itself, but focus on access and utilization of the flowing resource.
  • Responsibility for Water Health: Riparian landowners have a responsibility to ensure their water usage doesn’t significantly impact downstream users or the overall health of the waterway.

Littoral Rights: Bottom Line

Owning waterfront property with littoral rights unlocks a world of possibilities. From building your own dock for easy water access to enjoying the sandy shores of public trust land, these rights enhance your connection to the waterfront lifestyle. Remember, when considering a beachfront property, ensure littoral rights are included to fully experience the joys of coastal living.

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