Littoral Rights Guide

By PropertyClub Team
Jun 25th 2024
Littoral rights refer to the property rights of property owners whose land borders large, navigable bodies of water, such as oceans, seas, or lakes. Read on to discover how littoral rights work.

hash-markTable of Contents

What Are Littoral Rights?
Key Aspects of Littoral Rights
Littoral Rights Example
Littoral Rights & Littoral Land
Littoral Rights vs Riparian Rights
Littoral Rights Bottom Line

hash-markWhat Are Littoral Rights?

Littoral rights are legal rights concerned with the use of bodies of water that border a landowner’s property. These rights grant landowners specific privileges related to the use and enjoyment of the shorefront, as well as responsibilities for maintaining and preserving the waterfront area.

For example, if you were to purchase oceanfront property with littoral rights, you would have the right to use the beach that borders the water and unrestricted access to the body of water. You would also have exclusive rights to use the beachfront up until the median high water mark. 

Developers often purchase littoral rights when building vacation homes, hotels, and other tourist attractions. Without these rights, homeowners or visitors would not be allowed to freely access the beach bordering the body of water, which significantly diminishes the appeal. So, littoral rights can greatly increase the value of a property because they offer an additional feature that makes it more attractive to buyers or customers.

hash-markKey Aspects of Littoral Rights

1. Access to Water

Littoral rights grant landowners the right to access the water directly from their property. This includes the right to build piers, docks, and other structures, subject to local regulations and environmental considerations.

2. Usage of Water

Littoral rights also typically include the right to use the water for recreational purposes, such as swimming, boating, and fishing. However, these activities must be conducted in a way that does not harm the environment or infringe on the rights of other property owners.

3. Ownership of Shoreline

The ownership typically extends to the mean high-water mark, with the state or federal government owning the land below this point. The exact boundary can vary depending on local laws and the specific characteristics of the water body.

4. Protection and Preservation

Littoral property owners have a responsibility to protect and preserve the shoreline. This includes preventing erosion, pollution, and other activities that could harm the natural environment.

5. Public Access

While littoral rights grant the landowner access to the water, they do not necessarily prevent the public from using the water itself, as long as public access does not interfere with the landowner’s use of their littoral rights.

hash-markLittoral Rights Example

Another common example of littoral rights would be the right to build a private dock or pier on a body of water that borders your property. However, it's important to understand that littoral access rights are not unlimited, so you would not be able to construct a massive dock of any size. Littoral rights ensure you can enjoy the body of water, so any structure you build should be appropriately sized to support your private use and enjoyment. 

hash-markLittoral Rights & Littoral Land

Littoral land refers to the land adjacent to a body of water, whereas littoral rights refer to the right to use that land. Littoral rights typically include unrestricted access to the adjoining water but only property ownership up until the high watermark. Without these rights, the property owner has no claim to use the littoral land freely. 

Say, for example, your home borders a private beach. Without the littoral rights to access the land, you would still need permission from the owner to access the beach freely. Littoral rights give you free access to use the land however you see fit, which is a significant attraction to many buyers.

hash-markLittoral Rights vs Riparian Rights

Littoral rights are often confused with another similar concept called riparian rights, which are related yet slightly different. Riparian rights refer to the right to land bordering a flowing body of water, such as a river, creek, or stream. Littoral rights apply to land bordering a standing or pooled body of water such as an ocean, sea, or lake. 

The basic idea remains the same – whoever holds these rights is entitled to use the water and adjacent land however they see fit. But the difference is whether or not the water is flowing or still. Littoral land is often referred to as “oceanfront” or “beachfront” property, whereas riparian land is often referred to as “riverfront” property.  

hash-markLittoral Rights Bottom Line 

Littoral rights are a major perk for prospective homebuyers of properties that border bodies of water. Access to a public or private beach is a huge draw, especially for those looking for a vacation home or investment property. So, if you’re in the market for a beachfront estate, make sure that the home includes littoral rights. Otherwise, you won’t have direct access to the beach, even if it borders your property. Understanding littoral rights is essential for property owners and developers to ensure responsible and legal use of waterfront properties.