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Tampa Real Estate Lawyer > Blog > Real Estate > Who Owns Florida’s Beachfront?

Who Owns Florida’s Beachfront?


Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that the state has roughly 825 miles of sandy coastline, serving as an enormous draw for both investors and tourists. Of that mileage, roughly 60 percent is privately owned – but there have been debates for many years as to just who owns the rest. If you have beachfront property to sell, or if you are looking to buy just such a parcel, it is important to understand this issue, which can materially affect the value of the property in question.

High Tide Matters

The major factor when determining beach ownership is the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). This is a measurement determined by the average elevation of high tide at a certain location over approximately 20 years. An average is necessary, rather than a specific high-water mark, simply because tides change over time. However, this measure can be simplified for the public – and often is – by characterizing it instead as the ‘wet/dry’ line.

In general, with some rare exceptions, the state of Florida holds all beach land that is made wet by the normal activity or movement of seawater in trust for the public. Thus, if the property you own or are interested in owning has a very high tide, you by law own less beachfront acreage than you might think. The interest of the public in being able to access beachfront property is held to have a higher priority than individuals being able to lay claim to those feet of sand.

Who Can Use What?

Usually, the property line for a privately-owned beachfront home will extend up to the MHWL, though not always; the deed will usually state the outer limit of a parcel. A property owner may only police up to their borders; the portion of the beachfront held by the State of Florida below the MHWL effectively functions as an easement allowing the public to walk on it (though that portion of the beachfront is owned by the state rather than the private landowner).

Florida does honor a concept known as ‘customary use,’ which until recently meant that if there had been a common pattern of using the dry sand adjacent to the MHWL by the public – in other words, if the use is “ancient, reasonable, without interruption and free from dispute,” the owner was not to interfere. Some municipalities still observe this – but in recent years, the burden of proof to establish “ancient, reasonable, [uninterrupted] … use” has shifted from the property owner to the municipal government, meaning that a government must affirmatively allow customary use, rather than it being a matter of, well, custom.

Contact A Florida Real Estate Attorney

If you are looking to purchase beachfront property in Florida, it is important that you be aware of your rights as an owner, and just how much beach you have the right to enjoy without any kind of interference. If you have questions or concerns about a future purchase, a Tampa real estate attorney from the Seward Law Office should be your first call. Attorney Alicia Seward has handled these matters before, and will work hard on yours. Call our office today at 813-252-6789 to schedule a consultation.



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