An Overview of Riparian Rights and Access Disputes

September 13, 2022

The surface waters of New York State are held in the public trust, allowing the right of navigation and incidental rights of fishing, boating, swimming, and other recreational purposes; however, a riparian land owner has the right of access to navigable water, and the right to make this access a “practical reality by building a pier or wharfing out.” On Long Island, the rights of the waterfront property owner to gain access to the water typically begin at the high water mark of a tidal water body.

What Are Riparian Rights?

Riparian rights refer to a system of allocating water rights among waterfront landowners primarily providing access to the navigable portions of a waterway. In New York, owners of land abutting navigable bodies of waters such as rivers, streams, oceans, seas or lakes, are commonly referred to as riparian landowners and have certain privileges know as riparian rights. Technically, the term “riparian rights” refers to the interests of land owners whose property abuts a river or stream, and when the issue involves lands adjacent to tidal navigable waters, the proper term is “littoral rights.” This distinction, however, is vestigial and so often blurred by the courts this it is now more commonly referred to as “riparian rights.”

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Reprinted with permission by the Nassau County Bar Association

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