Waterfront property owners could lose rights, value of land after Supreme Court ruling

Published: Feb. 10, 2020 at 10:06 PM CST
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Waterfront property owners in Wisconsin are at risk of seeing the value of their property decrease significantly after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2018.

For more than 140 years, Wisconsin has recognized lakefront property owners having rights to the land under the water where their pier or dock is located. However, after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in Movrich V. Lobermeier, those rights are now being threatened.

“This is very concerning,” stated Rick Parkin, President of Lake Wausau Association. “If we are not allowed to have docks or boats on our personal property or riparian shores, it really affects the value of being a homeowner on the lake.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling was sparked from an independent family dispute over who owns what. Many impacted owners have reached out to their lawmakers concerned about the decision.

“When these property owners pay their property taxes they are being assessed as waterfront property owners,” stated Senator Patrick Testin who represents District 24.

Sen. Testin recently sponsored legislation AB 551/SB 501 that will restore the rights to waterfront owners. He’s hoping to have Governor Evers sign the bill into law within the next few months.

“If they don’t have riparian rights – to me that is an issue of unfairness,” added Sen. Testin.

In many cases, a property owner could see the value of their property drop by nearly $20,000 if they lose riparian rights.

“There are a lot of people who own restaurants and businesses on flowages where people come to eat with their boats, and if they aren’t allowed to have docking for that, it could greatly impact their business,” included Parkin.

A lot of the land would end up being owned by the Department of Nature Resources. State Representatives and Senators hope to pass legislation in the coming months that would clarify who owns what while protecting the rights of waterfront property owners.

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