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Is Your Neighbor’s Dock on Your Property?

April 24, 2017
Riparian Rights Insights

Lake with boats and docks at sunsetI've always envied accountants because their busy season ends when the weather starts to get nice. As a riparian rights attorney, I have the opposite problem. When lake season approaches and docks and lifts are installed, my professional life gets more hectic. Each year riparians seem to acquire new water toys. Because the lake has not gotten any bigger, conflicts often result as the near-shore space gets crowded.

In Michigan, one who owns land on an inland lake (a "riparian") owns the adjacent riparian bottomlands to the center of the lake. Unlike upland areas, there are no legal descriptions to precisely identify those riparian bottomlands. Instead, a licensed surveyor, ideally one experienced with these issues, offers an opinion as to how riparian bottomlands should be apportioned. For more information on how riparian bottomlands are apportioned, see my previous post, Is your neighbor’s dock on your bottomlands? A problem I frequently encounter is that someone simply follows the angles of their upland property lines into the lake. The angle of those upland property lines is irrelevant to a riparian bottomland apportionment.

While neighbors are understandably reluctant to confront one another, ignoring encroachment by a neighbor could ultimately result in a loss of property rights, affecting both the use and enjoyment of the property, as well as resale value. There are several legal doctrines which your neighbor may rely upon to claim title to, or permanent use of a portion of your property, including adverse possession, prescriptive rights, or acquiescence. For more information, see our page on boundary disputes. It may, therefore, be a costly mistake to simply ignore a neighbor's encroachment onto your riparian bottomlands.

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