Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lake rights vs deeded lake rights

There is a significant difference between municipal lake rights and deeded private property lake rights that you must know before buying a piece of real estate that you believe gives you a right to lake access.  I live in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. If you own real estate in Williams Bay, you can get a boat slip through the municipality at the local marina. This isn't a right, it's a fee-based permitted use for property owners in our village. I was not granted a legal lake right when I purchased my home. The public lake access is simply a perk when owning real property in the Williams Bay community. Deeded lake access is much different and should not be confused with what I mentioned above. When you buy a piece of property with deeded lake access the deed grants you specific legal uses of the lakefront. You may be allowed access to the lake through a right-a-way, or you may be allowed access through a designated path leading to the water.

When you have access through an association you usually have access through a right-a-way, and if you bought property across the street from the lake, you probably were granted deeded access through a path or some other dedicated walkway to the water. Having deeded access to the lake does not mean you own lakefront property or even have a view of the lake for that matter. It just means that you have legal access. Before you purchase a property with deeded lake access, you absolutely must review the deed, and I would even recommend you have an attorney obtain a copy and review before you decide to write an offer. It's easy to get a copy. Drive to the local county court house or offices, where the deed is recorded, and ask for a copy because you are considering making a purchase.

If you have access through an association, you need to contact the association management and obtain a copy of the by-laws. The by-laws will spell out exactly where the access is and what an association member can do there. Remember, the access is private property belonging to the association. One great thing about buying real estate with deeded lake access is that you're not paying lakefront property taxes but you still have legal access to the lake. But, you may have to pay an association fee, and depending on what activities the association runs, it could be expensive.

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