Keyholing / Funneling

A property design causing controversy in many neighborhoods in Michigan




Keyholing or funneling is a legal arrangment whereby either multiple persons or lots within a subdivision access a lake or river through a shared piece of property. These are common in lake-side subdivisions throughout the state.


The owners of Lots B and C usually claim keyhole access for the owners of Lots 1 through 4,
even if properly granted, is an undue burden or a nuisance.


The conflict is self-evident. Those with lake access want to limit backlotters (or the public) from accessing the water while backlotters likely purchased their property with the expectation of access through the 'access point' in a plat or via a deed.

Michigan riparian and property law has no direct prohibition on keyholing and funneling, but other rules and regulations can practically prohibit such setups. The reason is because the exact nature of keyholing can fall within a number of existing common law arguments, like trespass, overburdening easements, nuisance, prescriptive easements, and plat violations. Resolving keyholing disputes are legally difficult, for either side.

In addition to these state-level legal claims, the Michigan Supreme Court has permitted townships to regulate by ordinance boat docking and launching for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of persons and property within their communities under a township's general policing authority. The Michigan Legislature has also passed Public Act 56 regulating road-end access, which has not yet been challenged before the appellate courts.

Further, the Supreme Court has also ruled zoning laws permit (but do not require) townships to enact ordianances under their zoning power to regulate riparian rights including boat docking.

Two different laws give the local government authority to alter or limit riparian rights by ordinance. However, many local governments have simply not enacted such ordinances. Once that have tend to favor the front-lot owners, which can be improper.

These ordinances are subject to constitutional limitations for the unlawful taking of private property rights, equal protection, and due process. The concept of non-confirming uses can come into play as well.

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.