Published on:

Rhode Island Considering Expanding Public Shoreline Access

Where the ocean meets private property, disputes are commonplace. Under state law, the ocean itself and portions of the coast and beach are public property, and anyone can use them. However, access to such areas can be problematic, as private property owners often want to restrict or prevent public access to beaches adjacent to their property. Under current law, it isn’t clear to property owners or members of the public exactly where members of the public are permitted to be. A recently published news report discusses efforts in the Rhode Island legislature to modify current laws and clarify where members can enjoy the coast.

In an effort to clear up the ambiguities in the current law, the Rhode Island general assembly is considering passing legislation. According to the recent article, current laws allow members of the public use of beaches and shorelines up to the median high tide line over the last 18.6 years. Because this line is impossible to see, beachgoers and property owners have been involved in heated disputes over whether a certain area of the beach was public or private. Private property owners have been using law enforcement in an attempt to enforce trespassing laws against beachgoers, and police have been forced into the awkward position of deciding whether a certain spot was public or private.

One proposal to clarify the rights of property owners vis-a-vis the public would be to use the “wrack line” instead of the median high tide line to determine where private property begins. The wrack line is the highest spot where the ocean has deposited visible debris. Some property owners are resistant to changing the law, as the wrack line will generally be higher on the shore than the line currently in use. Some property owners have threatened legal action if the legislature changes the law, arguing that it would amount to a taking by the government, and the property owners should be compensated as such. The news report concludes that such legal challenges would face an uphill battle; however, the law is certainly not settled in Rhode Island.

How to Protect the Rights of Coastal Property Owners

Rhode Island property owners who own property or buildings along the shoreline may be concerned that their rights are going to be infringed upon. With rising sea levels and statutory changes on the horizon, property owners may be about to lose the exclusive use of the properties that they purchased. Even if the law is changed, property owners may have ways to protect the use of their property or seek compensation in the event that property lines are changed. If you or someone you know owns shore-adjacent property and has concerns, the knowledgeable Rhode Island real estate lawyers with Bilodeau Capalbo may be able to help. Our experienced attorneys have successfully represented property owners in trespass and takings cases, and we are eager to assist you in protecting your property rights. Contact us today by calling 401-300-4055 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney.

Contact Information