The Basics about Michigan's Riparian Law and Rights

Water rights under Michigan law




Land is riparian when it includes or is bounded by a natural watercourse. When land touches the water's edge, the property is commonly known as being "riparian" from the Latin word 'riparius' which literally means river. Littoral land includes or abuts a lake. Except for rare circumstances, Michigan water law has not kept a legal distinction between these rights.


All property in pink, which surrounds the lake in blue is riparian or littoral property

Individuals who own property (i.e. an estate) or have a granted possessory interest in water-side land enjoy "riparian rights." These rights exist by operation of law and are automatically connected with the water-side property.

Rights by Easement
However, sometimes property which is not "on" the lake can have riparian rights. Water rights can be deeded or granted via an easement, reservation, and other ways to allow property which is a "back lot" or "off lot" to have access to the water. These access rights can be as little as ingress and egress to the waters edge or permission to use the lake just as if full riparian rights were conveyed.


All property in yellow is riparian property, but the green properties have been
granted a riparian easemen across the access point marked in dark green.


The scope or permissible uses of easement property will depend on circumstances of how the easement came into existence, including whether by license, deed, or plat map. Generally, the intent of the grantor controls the permitted uses. However, a great many judicial cases involve what a grantor "intended" when the grantor is either gone or deceased. Otherwise times, the scope of an easement is controlled by a property owners or home owners association. However, sometimes the association limits rights when it lacks the authority to do so.

Protect Your Rights

OLC represents private land owners regarding disputes with local governments, enforcement officials, neighbors, home and property owners associations, and others. Contact a riparian rights attorney at Outside Legal Counsel today.