Riparian Rights and Florida Property Owners’ Rights to an Unobstructed Water View
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Among the many attractive features of owning real estate in Florida is the possibility of having a waterfront view of one of the numerous scenic bodies of water throughout the state. However, property owners in Florida are often under the mistaken impression that they have an absolute right to a view of the water once they purchase a piece of property. However, this right—known as a riparian right—is limited, and it is crucial that people understand whether riparian rights apply to the property they purchase.
Riparian Rights in Florida
Riparian rights in Florida are those rights enjoyed by real property owners whose upland property extends to the normal high-water line on navigable waters. In other words, a property owner’s land must immediately abut a body of water. Per Sec. 253.141 Florida Statutes, riparian rights include rights of ingress, egress, boating, bathing, fishing and such others as defined by law. Additionally, in Florida, the right of an upland owner to an unobstructed view of adjoining waters has been recognized as a riparian right. Hayes v. Bowman, 91 So.2d 795 (Fla. 1957) (“An upland owner must in all cases be permitted a direct, unobstructed view… If the exercise of these rights is prevented, the upland owner is entitled to relief.”).
Protecting Your Waterfront View
Florida courts have further recognized over the years that the views associated with these properties are of value. The Florida Supreme Court held the following, “In many cases, doubtless, the riparian rights incident to ownership of the land were the principal if not the sole inducement leading to its purchase by one and the reason for the price paid by the seller.” Thiesen v. Gulf, F. & A. Ry. Co., 78 So. 491 (Fla. 1917). As the Supreme Court points out, and which is obvious to anyone living in Florida, a waterfront property’s value is dependent on these riparian rights. If the view of a waterfront property were to be obstructed, it would follow that the property’s value would diminish.
It is not uncommon for homeowners to seek to enforce their riparian rights when neighboring property owners along a body of water attempt to build docks extending off their property. This scenario gives rise to the question of whether the neighbor’s new dock can obstruct their neighbor’s waterfront view. The answer is most often no, the dock cannot obstruct the direct waterfront view of an adjacent property owner. Property owners seeking to build docks should look to build them perpendicular to the shoreline to avoid any potential for conflict with their neighbors.
There is a case in Florida where a court found in favor of the dock owner which was obstructing the view of the waterfront property owner with riparian rights. However, what separates that case from similar scenarios as described above is that, in that specific case, the structure was already in place for years prior to the waterfront property owner purchasing the property. The court held that the property owner was aware of the issue upon purchasing and could not enforce his right to an unobstructed review years after purchasing the property. City of Eustis v. Firster, 113 So.2d 260, 261 (Fla 2nd DCA 1959).
Property owners with a waterfront view are afforded robust riparian rights, which include the right to a direct unobstructed waterfront view from their property. The right to this unobstructed view can be enforced should someone attempt to construct a dock or other structure that impacts this waterfront view. If you should find yourself in such a situation, please contact an attorney experienced in the practice of riparian rights so that you do not lose your beautiful view.