Coastal Access Toolkit
For information about drawing up contracts, transferring access, and More...
Private Waterfront Landowner
How do I control public access?
As a waterfront landowner, what are my legal rights and responsibilities to control public use of my property? What is the scope of my ownership and what are its limitations?
- You have the right to determine who can access your waterfront land:
- When you choose to voluntarily allow public access to your waterfront, be informed about liability issues and Alabama’s Recreational Use Law.
- You have the right to exclude access to your waterfront land (to mean high tide line).
- Other limitations imposed by doctrine include the potential for eminent domain, takings and prescriptive easements.
What are the benefits to allowing access to my waterfront land?
- Good will
- Tax treatment and affordability
- Income potential when land trusts or public entities purchase easements
How do I ensure access?
What tools are available to secure and enhance waterfront access or to protect my rights when I provide access?
If someone gets injured while using my land, can I be held liable?
- The Alabama Recreational Use Statute: Alabama has a law that protects landowners from liability, should someone become injured while recreationally using their land. The Alabama Recreational Use law limits the liability of landowners who provide access to their land for non-commercial public recreational purposes, such as fishing or water sports. The law requires that the landowner establish that the land was open to the general public for recreational use. For instance, a landowner may post notices on the property or in the local newspaper. Landowners are not required to maintain their land safe for public use but should be aware that they can be held liable for willfully failing to guard against injury.
Who can own access rights?
Individuals and private user groups, federal, state and local governments, and land trusts can all own access rights. Ownership can also be held in trust by governments acting as trustees for the public at large (the public trust doctrine) or land trusts acting as trustees for the intents of the person who donated the land.
What is traditional land ownership?
Traditional land ownership included ownership of the full title, the right to eject (keep out trespassers), the right to transfer (sell or give the land away). Ownership need not be absolute; it can be split, such as by an easement or a right of way.
What is property owned in trust?
Property owned in trust consists of the property itself, the trustee or holder of the property (who will often be the manager of the property), and the beneficiary of the trust, or the person or organization who receives any benefits from the property. Land trusts – though often set up as private charitable organizations rather than actual trusts – assist landowners in conserving their land. Land trusts can act as trustees or whole owners of property.
What is a public trust?
A public trust consists of the same three parts as a regular trust: the trust property (or the public’s right to that property), the trustee (the state), and the beneficiary of the trust (the public). The public trust doctrine is a legal concept that applies a public trust ownership to lands that have traditionally been public, such as submerged tidal lands. Because the state owns such land in trust, it cannot give the land to private owners.