Littoral and riparian rights are property rights associated with land with water.
Let's start with littoral rights. These water rights impact properties adjacent to a body of water that is not flowing, such as a pond, lake, or ocean. Some examples to bring to mind are a lakeside house or beachfront property. These properties are called littoral land.
The owners of littoral properties get some added benefits associated with the body of water. Instead of owning just up to the shoreline, they have rights to use some of the water and land beneath the water.
If a property is next to a body of water affected by tides like a sea or ocean, they own everything up to the median high water mark. The high water mark is the point to which the water rises during high tide. The high water mark becomes their property border. But in addition, littoral properties benefit from the right to access the water.
Properties adjacent to a pond or lake will own everything up to the middle of the body of water. This makes it possible for lakeside property owners to build waterfront improvements like a dock.
Riparian rights differ from littoral rights in that they are associated with properties that are adjacent to a running body of water, such as a contiguous stream or river. These properties, called riparian land, have rights to use the water and obligations attached to access to the water. Riparian rights become important for owners who rely on the water for irrigation. The landowners are allowed to make reasonable use of the water, but are not allowed to impact other riparian land that has the same right to the water. The water must always be allowed to continue to flow past.
A good way to visualize the difference between littoral land and riparian land is as beachfront property and riverfront property.
Riparian and littoral rights are appurtenant. Appurtenant means that the rights are attached to the property and are therefore transferred with title. In the case of both riparian and littoral land, it's essential to check if there are any limitations on these rights when listing or negotiating a purchase, as there can be significant changes depending on the property. As an agent, you want to fully understand the water rights associated with a property so you can best represent your clients.
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