It amazes me that many consumers and real estate agents do not understand the property types classified as waterfront, water view, water access and water privileged. Most recently I had a "top agent" try to explain to me that a waterfront property that I had listed for sale was not actually waterfront due to access through marshland and no views from the homesite. I had to explain in the nicest way possible that the property not only has frontage along the river it also has riparian rights that run with the land so this property was classified as waterfront and has the right to access the water. This type of statement would bring a concern to many people as to how an agent with experience and high production is not familiar with the classification of waterfront let alone became classified as a "top agent". In this article, I will quickly breakdown the basics of these four property types, what amenities run with them and how they differ from one another.
Waterfront. What defines waterfront property?
Waterfront is often confused with riparian rights. It is not true that if you have waterfront you also have riparian rights, depending on the body of water, your property and how your particular state defines those rights will determine what rights you may have. Waterfront is often thought to encompass a view of the water, this is not necessarily the case. Waterfront is classified as having frontage along the water but do not confuse this with riparian rights. I have seen many times where property owners do not have riparian rights to their water frontage. A property owner may have water frontage but non-riparian rights. To learn more about riparian and non-riparian rights.
With water frontage, you may have access to your water or you may not. For instance, if your property has a cliff to the water's edge you may not have reasonable access to the water. In another scenario your property may sit on a public beach... this may classify you as having waterfront, access and a water view but with a limited set of rights. So the bottom line here is that "waterfront property" can come with a varying range of rights aside from the classification.
Frankly, the definition is straight forward. But your rights are defined separately.
Definition of waterfront
: land, land with buildings, or a section of a town fronting or abutting on a body of water.
Water View. What is a water view?
Simply put water view is just that, having a view of the water from your property. I have seen real estate agents stretch with this property type. I am also guilty of this. Views and how much of a water view "counts" is subjective. You can have a view between houses, down a street and even between trees. This is a tricky one because views from properties can change over time, naturally and due to adjacent landowners and future development. You have little say with what your neighbor may do in the future to their property which may change your view. Even if you own the water frontage you may also have no ability to preserve your view of the water if your land restricts you from clearing. In fact, in the State of Maryland, there are buffer zones within 100' of the water which restricts clearing. Landowners are also restricted to critical area requirements within 1000' and not to mention if a property has restrictions such as a conservation easement that runs with the land. This can certainly become restrictive if you are looking to preserve a view. If you are really concerned about your view, know who and what stands in your way and how you may be able to protect your view. We have all heard of landowners purchasing neighboring air rights to protect a view, this may not be feasible in all situations. Certainly having riparian rights to the waterfront will help but as mentioned those come with restrictions in some areas. Rights vary from state to state but it is safe to say "views" come with few rights. In the state of Florida, they have a different take on views with regard to riparian rights. Unobstructed views are covered under riparian rights as discussed in Hayes v. Bowman. Remember much of Florida has littoral rights where you have the right to access, right to reasonable use, right to accretion and reliction and the right to the unobstructed view of the water.
Water Access. What is water access?
Water access can be part of a privilege (community amenity), available by way of an easement or even through your own property. Many times properties may not have water frontage or even a water view but may have access to the water through an easement or community amenity. You may own waterfront property but not be able to access the water reasonably. Some will confuse access as only being able to launch a watercraft, this is not true, however, this is a type of access. Many times you can have water access even without riparian rights. Having a pier without riparian rights would classify as access as would not having a pier but being granted access through a community or public easement. In my opinion water access is one of the loosest terms when defining your type of property and is open for interpretation.
Water Privileged. What is water privilege?
Typically when referring to water privileges you are referring to community amenities that allow access to the water either through an easement or community-owned property. This could cover community boat ramps, beaches, and piers. The privileges within these amenities can vary widely. All of the above discussed water-related property types can differ from state to state and locality to locality. They can also impact the value of your property significantly. It is important to consult a real estate attorney with questions you may have. We are not responsible for decisions made concluding from this article. This is simply to serve as an overview of common misunderstandings with water-related property types. The opinions and expressions in this article are solely that of the author.
Patrick DeLeonibus and The Waterfront Group specialize in waterfront real estate across the entire Washington DC region including Maryland and Virginia.