Michigan's Great Lakes

Inland lakes and the Great Lakes have different laws...




While Michigan law has developed its own rules and standard for property rights involving inland lakes, the Great Lakes are subject to what's known as the "the common law of the sea" and specifically that the public trust doctrine from the common law of the sea applies to the Great Lakes.



The Michigan Supreme Court has explained the State has the legal obligation to protect and preserve the waters of the Great Lakes and the lands beneath them for the public, and is "the trustee of public rights in the Great Lakes" for fishing, hunting, and boating for commerce or pleasure.

In 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its Glass v Goeckel decision. By this decision, the Supreme Court confirmed that the private title of land on Michigan's Great Lakes remains subject to the public trust beneath the ordinary high water mark.


Under Glass, the public may walk on private land which is waterwards
of the high water mark for the Great Lakes.


As such, members of the public have a legal right of passage over land below the ordinary high water mark and may walk along the shore in that area up to the high water mark, even if the private ownership of the land goes further waterwards.

Concurrent Jurisdiction
In addition to being subject to the rights of the public, Great Lakes riparian owners also are subject to regulation, licensing, and oversight of use of submerged bottomlands by both the State of Michigan (via the Department of Environmental Quality) and the federal Army Corp of Engineers. Nearly all improvement activities require special permitting which can take anywhere between two and four months, absent any other legal issues.

Permits are required for beach grooming, sand dunes, floodplains, erosion, wetlands, and more.

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.