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Coastal Property Rights in Rhode Island

Waterfront property is widely considered to be the most desirable property in the state. And while Rhode Island has just 40 miles of coastline, when considering all inlets and tidal areas, there are closer to 385 miles of shoreline. Still, that is a limited amount of space for an area that is known for its beautiful beaches and temperate summer climate.

With the gorgeous views and access that it affords property owners, Rhode Island waterfront property is also among the most valuable. However, property owners are not the only ones who hope to benefit from the perks that waterfront property provides. Indeed, the tension between a property owner’s right to exclude others from their property and the public’s access to beaches has been a consistent theme throughout New England property law since the formation of our country.

When it comes to determining ownership rights along the coastline, Rhode Island uses a public trust doctrine. The public trust doctrine essentially states that the submerged land is owned in public trust, and owners of the beach cannot prevent the public from using this land (and the water above it). The Rhode Island public trust doctrine is contained in Article I Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution, and specifically provides that the public has a right to use the beach for “fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values.”

Rhode Island uses the mean high tide line to delineate where private ownership ends and the public trust takes over. Thus, any land on the shore-side of the mean high tide line belongs to the property owner and, within reason, can be used as the owner desires. This includes preventing the public from crossing their property to access the beach. However, these property rights are routinely infringed upon as beach goers are often unaware of the laws or, on occasion, willfully ignore them.

The Rhode Island public trust doctrine is hardly unique in that many states along the eastern seaboard have similar laws. However, it can raise many important and high-stakes real estate disputes. Anyone involved in a Rhode Island coastal land dispute should discuss their situation with a dedicated Rhode Island property law attorney.

Are You Involved in a Property Dispute?

If you are currently involved in any kind of Rhode Island real estate dispute, or have questions about your rights as a property owner, contact the law firm of Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP. At Bilodeau Capalbo, our skilled team of Rhode Island real estate lawyers handles all types of real estate and property law issues for residential and commercial clients. One of our experienced Rhode Island lawyers is ready to meet with you to discuss your matter. To learn more, and to speak with a lawyer about your situation, call 401-300-4055 to schedule a free consultation today.

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