Sandcastles and statutes: A guide to beach ownership in the Sunshine State

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | residential real estate | 0 comments

In Florida, the allure of beachfront property is undeniable. Homeowners will go to great lengths to get a little slice of this paradise. After spending large sums of money to get a portion of the beach, homeowners may find themselves frustrated with the prospect of others walking along what they believe to be their land. Few things can take away from the joy of a private getaway like tourists setting up umbrellas and blasting their music right outside your door.

To reduce this risk, it is important for prospective or current homeowners to have a better understanding of the laws that set these rules.

Public vs private ownership

Florida’s beaches are a patchwork of public and private ownership. The state generally owns the land below the mean high water line, considered public territory. Property owners may own the beach up to this line, but public access can still be a consideration due to state regulations and local ordinances.

The term high water line has a rich history and is generally defined as the average height of the high tides. Property owners can use surveys and historical data to help establish this boundary. The public may have the right to access the wet sand area below the MHWL. Beachfront property owners typically own the dry sand area above the MHWL, yet some exceptions can apply.

Balancing these rights often leads to legal disputes, requiring property owners to stay informed about their boundaries and the public’s rights.

Environmental regulations can also impact beach ownership

It is also advantageous to consider environmental laws and local zoning. These rules can impact coastal construction plans to help better protect beaches and marine life. Zoning laws may also restrict building types, sizes, or distances from the waterline.

It is also important to note that those who live on, or frequent waterfront properties likely know that the shoreline frequently changes. These changes can impact your ownership. A basic understanding of the complex interplay of public entitlement and private property rights as well as the implications of environmental and zoning when owning beachfront property can better ensure you get what you paid for. Navigating these intricacies with due diligence and legal counsel will help to better ensure that your little slice of paradise remains just that, while also compliant with state and local statutes.