LIFE ON THE LAKES
As I write this article on a September evening, golden leaves are falling from the trees, pelting my office window. Frosty mornings mark the end of the boating season for most of our readers. Waterfront ownership presents the opportunity for lots of fun-having: depending on the size of your lot and family, a seasonal dock, a boat hoist, a pontoon boat, and a waterski boat or fishing boat may all be in your summer lineup. Come fall, all that gear has to go somewhere. Off-site storage can be costly, and transportation a hassle. The obvious answer of storing those waterfront items directly on your waterfront property, is often, but not always, the legally permissible answer.
The storage of accessories of a riparian life is something I consider incidental to having riparian rights, but not necessarily included in the bundle of riparian rights. Think of the storage of accessory structures like picnicking, lounging and sunbathing: activities that we commonly associate with riparian ownership that are not distinctly riparian in and of themselves.
If you happen to own residential waterfront property that is not part of a site condominium, or restrained in some way by a recorded deed restriction in your chain of title, your municipality’s zoning ordinance is the first place you should review for guidance. Many lake communities are generally silent on the specific topic of storage of riparian accessories. Some, however, specifically permit the storage of riparian accessories on riparian parcels with certain limitations. For example, the City of Novi permits storage on waterfront property for a limited period of time: “winter storage (October 1 to May 31) of boats and docks and materials customarily incidental to the summertime usage of lakefront property is permitted on lakefront property and provided the property is maintained in a manner to enhance and not obstruct the view of the lake.” The Village of Clarkston limits the total number of boats and docks that may be stored on lakefront property: “a dock permitted under this section shall not be used for the mooring of more than two (2) watercrafts. No other watercraft may be stored on or launched from the property or moored off the shore of the property.”
If you happen to reside in a subdivision with recorded covenants, conditions and restrictions, those documents often contain a provision prohibiting the exterior storage of boats, recreational vehicles, motorcycles and the like for more than a short period of time. That provision might potentially limit the lakefront storage of riparian accessories.
If your access to the waterbody arises from an easement, storage is further complicated. An easement is a limited property interest; it is the right to use the land burdened by the easement for a specific purpose. Dep’t of Natural Resources v Carmody-Lahti Real Estate, Inc. The easement holder’s use of the easement is limited to the purposes for which the easement was granted and must impose “as little burden as possible to the fee owner of the land,” but the easement holder nevertheless enjoys “all such rights as are incident or necessary to the reasonable and proper enjoyment of the easement.” Blackhawk v Village of Dexter. An easement for riparian access that expressly permits a dock to access the waterbody does not (per se) allow the storage of the dock on that easement, and part of the privilege of using that easement may mean moving the dock off of it in the winter months.