Property Rights on the Water
Michigan has unique rules which are used to decide disputes about waterfront property. For example, the owner of property on an inland lake has title to the bottomland beginning at the lakefront. For rivers and streams, the ownership extends to the "thread” or center of the flowing water. Ownership of inland lakes is usually pie shaped and extends to the center point of the lake. The other river or lake front owners have a right to navigate and fish over the privately owned bottomland.
The Great Lakes (including Lake St. Clair for this issue) have different rules than inland lakes. The lake water and bottomland are held in trust by the State for its residents. This law dates from the times of the Roman emperors and was passed down through English law and carried to Michigan when it was still a territory. In 2005, our Supreme Court determined that, although owners of land on the Great Lakes own the beach up to the water’s edge, the public has a right to walk between the water’s edge and the ordinary high water mark.
Knowledge About Waterfront Property Rights
I have been fortunate to have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience in regard to waterfront property law. I am very aware that those who live near or on the water cherish every inch of ownership of and access to lake or river property. The limited supply of property on water has made fights over water rights frequent and vigorous. I have represented many owners of property on inland lakes and rivers as well as the Great Lakes. Some cases I have litigated required researching title to land back to the original presidential land grants, before Michigan became a state. I have also negotiated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure property rights on federal waterways.
I am fascinated by water rights law and enjoy cases in which I can help my clients to fight for their waterfront rights. Ownership of waterfront land is one of the great benefits of our State. But it can be subject to very complex state and federal laws. You should hire an expert when your rights to your waterfront property are at stake.