Feb 2014

Understanding New Jersey Riparian Rights

By admin

A year after Superstorm Sandy and we’re still seeing pictures of damaged properties and lost shorelines.  It got me thinking again about issuing New Jersey Title Insurance policies when your property may be subject to riparian or littoral rights.  Both involve owners of land abutting a body of water, but a riparian owner is next to water that flows (such as a river) and a littoral owner abuts a body of water that is not flowing (such as a pond or lake).  But from a NJ Title Insurance perspective, we must also be concerned with those riparian lands for which the State of New Jersey or the United States claims an interest.  If your NJ title insurance involves lands that have been claimed, you need to understand exactly what you own.  Ignoring these riparian lands can be costly for you and your New Jersey Title Insurance company.

The general rule is that the State of New Jersey holds title to all lands now or formerly flowed by tidal waters. Obviously this would pertain to the lands adjacent to the ocean, bays or tidally flowed rivers, but may also include land that has been filled in or possible dormant streams and creek beds that have been dry for many years.  So claimed land may not even be part of a shoreline but sit well inland.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with such claimed lands?  Easy.  The State of New Jersey has maps that identify those lands which the state claims an interest.   Our New Jersey Title Insurance Company will professionally examine and review these maps and advise accordingly.  This is called a tideland search and you’ll see it as part of your NJ Title Insurance Commitment.  The only exceptions are those counties that don’t have any tideland claims (Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and Warren).

If our tideland search finds property that is ‘claimed’, we then order a grant search to see if the State has released its claim.  It’s possible that the State of New Jersey has issued a riparian grant or lease affecting the property, and this all needs to be reviewed to determine if the claimed area is covered by the grant or lease.  If there is no such lease or grant, or if there is but it doesn’t cover the entire claimed area, then your New Jersey Title Insurance company will have an exception on your title insurance policy for the rights of the State of New Jersey.  Also somewhat related to this is when your property is on or near a beach.  The NJ Supreme Court has upheld the public’s right to beach access so necessary exceptions will appear on your title.

Also mentioned above are possible claims by the United States.  In this instance any property that lies adjacent to a navigable body of water is subject to the United States’ authority to control “bulkhead and pierhead lines”.  In fact, the US may take “adjacent land in order to maintain navigation”! Your NJ Title Insurance company will be sure to list the necessary exception on your title insurance policy should your property be subject to these potential claims.

If you want to know if property you’re thinking of buying is affected by a riparian claim or suspect that your current property is, feel free to contact our NJ Title Insurance Company.  We have the tools, knowledge and experience to help you ‘navigate’ the question of tidal waters – pun intended!

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