Can A Beach Be Privately Owned?

When it comes to owning territory on a beach, the lines become blurry as to who has the right to what and how are you allowed to exercise that right? There have been numerous court disputes regarding civilians who have trespassed on “private property” and even changes that the government has made to pre-existing rules. So, can you really own a beach?

The rules differ regarding owning beaches privately in different states, but generally, the beach below means high water lines belong to the state and is therefore entrusted to the public. The beach above the mean high water line, also known as the sandier parts, can be privately owned.

The distinction between publically owned and privately owned beaches is unclear to many civilians and property owners. Therefore, it is important to know what dictates the lines between different parts of the beach and how one enforces these rules if you have your private property on a public beach.

What Are The Rules Of A Privately Owned Beach?

The rules of owning a part of a beach that one can refer to as private property are not as simple as they might seem, and different states have contrasting rules regarding this issue. For example, in Texas, all beaches are public property, and no one can block access; however, in Florida, landowners have spent good money to own sandier parts of a beach.

Various landowners have bought property on beaches above the mean high water line as the constitution states that only the parts of the beaches below the mean high water line are for public use.

The difficulty with the general rule is that you cannot create a clear cut line between the mean high tide and the parts above it. Hence, it is near impossible to dictate where the public property ends and the private property starts.

Due to this confusion, there have been numerous court cases to settle the dispute between private landowners and the public who want access to beach parts for swimming and fishing.

In Florida specifically, the local government can still regulate customary use of the beaches, which means they can make privately-owned parts open to the public even if the property is technically owned by a private landowner above the mean high tide water line.

A bill called the Edwards-Walpole’s bill aims to control how the local government manages the rules regarding permission to the premises. The bill argues that if rules are going to be established by the local government regarding private property on beaches, it will not be done in front of the county commission but in court where there is due process and testimonies.

Due to the complex situation of exercising the right to prohibit people from certain parts of the beach and stopping the local government from regulating the customary use, the bill has been opposed.

Are There Exceptions To The Rules Of A Privately Owned Beach?

As previously mentioned, the rules dictating who own certain parts of the beach are still being debated. Landowners have filed various lawsuits claiming that they own property that the public is trespassing on. So, not only are all rules unclear regarding this matter, but there is one specific rule that can be seen as an exception to the mean high water line agreement.

If citizens have been using parts of land without any issue or dispute, they can obtain the legal right to use the property the same way they have always done. If proof can be provided that citizens have been using the property for any recreational purpose, it becomes customary and is commonly referred to as the customary use doctrine.

This doctrine might feel like adding insult to injury to many private landowners, but some private property owners don’t mind the public using the property as long as it is kept clean and safe. However, Florida did aid the coastal property owners by voiding a county ordinance that wanted to prevent owners from posting signs.

Therefore, private property owners on beaches can prevent the public from trespassing unless the public can provide an existing easement that allows them to use the land.

However, some citizens feel that these rules and even their exceptions do not solve the main issue. The state law that allows private owners to prevent trespassing can damage tourism, which ultimately affects the economy in places that are well known for their beaches like Florida.

In some states, owning any part of a beach has been denied, but various legal cases are soon to follow in parts where ownership is still possible.

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What Does The Future Hold For Private Owners Of Beach Property?

The conflict between the public and private owners is a difficult debate to resolve as a compromise seems unlikely. Private owners want complete control over their properties, but the public wants unsupervised access to all parts of the beaches.

In states like California, private owners were penalized for denying access that they previously provided for the public, and in Florida, the city wanted to justify having public access as they have always previously had it even if they didn’t use it.

Many private owners still provide access to the public even if they legally own the property, but this privilege can easily be revoked if the public misbehaves. The main concern lies with whose responsibility the property is and who will keep it clean.

As long as it is the private owner’s responsibility, they would want to control the area, but if it is with the public, it becomes the state’s responsibility and will be difficult to keep clean and safe. Currently, apps are being developed to inform the public of the facility access on beaches and other areas.

We might see the public paying for access as the lawsuits continue or some private owners lose control over their properties. Either way, private owners want to protect their investments and increase the property’s value, which will be difficult to do without controlling access.

Due to the responsibility of the expense still being unclear, the conflict will continue between the public and private owners.

Conclusion

Sandier parts above the mean high tide water line can be owned by private investors in certain states, although the rules dictating the power and control over the property are still unclear in a lot of states, and the existing rules are being challenged by both the owners and the public.  

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