Water Encroachment and Land Rights

When a watercourse or body of water forms the boundary of a parcel of real property, the legal boundary line is changed by a slow, imperceptible change in the watercourse. When a river or stream serves as a boundary, the slow erosion of the bank results in the owner losing title to that area. Similarly, the slow deposit of soil—i.e.accretion—belongs to the owner of the abutting land. Where accretion builds up in an irregular pattern over the lands of several adjacent property owners, courts determine title to it by (i) extending each owner’s property line out into the water, or (ii) dividing up the newly formed land in proportion to the owners’ interests in the adjoining lands. 

 

When a watercourse or body of water forms the boundary of a parcel of real property, the legal boundary line is NOT changed by a sudden change in the watercourse. When a river or stream serves as a boundary, the sudden, perceptible change of the watercourse—i.e., avulsion—does not change property rights. The boundaries remain where they were, even if this results in a landowner who had river access finding himself landlocked.

 

When a watercourse or body of water forms the boundary of a parcel of real property, the legal boundary line is NOT changed by the encroachment of the body of water. When property is encroached upon by a body of water (e.g., a lake enlarges), previously fixed boundary lines do not change and ownership rights are not affected. The boundary lines can be proven even if the land is completely under water. 

 

When a watercourse or body of water forms the boundary of a parcel of real property, the legal boundary line CAN be changed by movement of the water alone. Through accretion or erosion, discussed above, a slow, imperceptible change in a watercourse will extend or retract the property line.

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