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COASTAL PROPERTY LAW

Rhode Island is the Ocean State and has 40 miles of coastline along Rhode Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.  Yet when all inlets and tidal areas are included, Rhode Island actually has 384 miles of coastline.  That gives rise to a large number of waterfront properties and water view properties, and these coastal properties are some of the most highly-regulated properties in the State.  These “regulators” include, in addition to municipalities, the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Department of Environmental Management, the Narragansett Bay Commission, the Department of Health, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission. Given the special attention paid to coastal property by governmental regulators, Mr. Boehnert authored a book on the subject, Buying, Owning, and Selling Rhode Island Waterfront and Water View Property, published in 2016.  This book is a definitive guide to protecting a purchaser’s or owner’s property rights and their investment in coastal property, and is available on this website or through Amazon.com.

Waterfront Property Rights

Mr. Boehnert has extensive experience addressing waterfront property rights and public trust doctrine issues, including permitting for waterfront activities, development, and enforcement of riparian rights. He has represented property owners in challenges to encroachment on their riparian rights, as by the expansion of adjacent marina perimeters, and in quite title actions to clear title to improvements constructed on filled tidal land (i.e. land formerly located below mean high tide).

Mr. Boehnert represented two utilities, a college and a Chamber of Commerce in successfully bringing the most significant Rhode Island waterfront property rights case in a century, winning a decision from the Rhode Island Supreme Court clearing title to millions of dollars of waterfront and former tidal lands.  That action was taken in response to efforts by the State of Rhode Island to claim that formerly tide-flowed land that was created by the placing of fill below mean high tide was really state land, requiring the thousands of private owners of businesses and residences to pay a license fee to occupy such state land.  The Court decision also established a simple and cost-effective mechanism to clear title on an ad hoc basis to hundreds of millions of dollars of filled tidal land properties.  This is important as it provides a way for a property owner whose land may be former filled tidal land to clear title to the land in a very cost-effective manner.

Our firm regularly advises clients on issues pertaining to their coastal property rights, whether waterfront property or water view property, whether bordering on the bay, the ocean or on rivers.

Coastal Permitting

Our firm advises clients on obtaining permits for coastal properties.  Most prospective property owners of coastal property, and many current owners of coastal property, are surprised to learn that for most activities within 200 feet of the inland edge of a coastal feature, most alteration activities are regulated, requiring the property owner to apply for and obtain the work before engaging in the activity.  These restricted activities could involve installing a dock, putting in a kayak or canoe rack, installing a shed, etc.  And if the area in question is within a regulated buffer zone, just cutting vegetation or planting vegetation, or clearing a view to the water, will require a permit, and the State will tell you how much of a view you may have.

Our firm assists with this permitting as well as with defending against notices of violations or other enforcement orders.

As a result of Mr. Boehnert’ s extensive experience in coastal zone matters, he authored the first book to address the legal issues involving ocean zoning, entitled Zoning the Oceans: The Next Big Step in Coastal Zone Management, published by the American Bar Association in 2013.  This book is available on this website or through Amazon.com or the American Bar Association.