Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.
Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.

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Elkhorn, WI

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What are your rights as someone with Wisconsin waterfront property?

Wisconsin has some incredible lakefront properties. From open lots with a sunrise view of Lake Michigan to properties on the various lakes, rivers and streams throughout the state, there are many ways for you to enjoy the waterfront lifestyle as a Wisconsin resident or business owner.

Unfortunately, especially if you intend to build a new house or building on a waterfront property or add a dock or similar structure to aid in your access to the water, you may find that the local community or even the state itself takes issue with what you want to do with your own property. What rights do you have as someone who owns a waterfront property in Wisconsin? 

Property owners have the right to enjoy and improve their property

Provided that the improvements that you make to your property comply with building code and other important laws, you typically have the right to do what you want with a property once you purchase it. However, waterfront properties fall into a legal gray area.

Specifically, they are often properties that both an individual owner and the public may have an interest in. Under Wisconsin law, those who own land adjacent to water have the right to access and use the water next to their property. Sadly, some of the ways owners would use their property might impact the public right to access and enjoy the body of water.

Most of the time, if the courts have to make a determination in a case that pits public interest regarding waterfront rights against the rights of an individual owner, they will side with the public rather than the private owner. Such a ruling could mean that your plans for a dock don’t receive approval or even that the state orders you to remove a structure or improvement that you already invested in at your own expense.

Getting advice before you build is often a smart move

Waterfront property owners in Wisconsin often have an uphill battle if they want to make substantial changes to their property that might impact public access to an area. Before you build or spend money on a new structure, it is probably smart for you to discuss your plans with an attorney familiar with this niche area of Wisconsin real estate law.

For those who did not seek legal advice before moving forward with a project, proper representation when pushing back against public complaints may be necessary in order to prevent losses or other unfavorable outcomes.

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