A new Florida law restricts beach access. Supporters of the law explain it does not change beach access in most communities. They claim the law will mostly impact communities that passed local ordinances to open access to private lands.
The law provides an opportunity to discuss how beach ownership works.
Beach ownership in Florida: What is private property and what is public?
As noted in a previous piece, available here, private property on the beach is generally defined as the property that reaches the high tide water line. This high tide water line is the area of beach reached by the water when the ocean or Gulf is at its high tide mark. In theory, the public is not allowed to place beach chairs, umbrellas, fishing equipment or otherwise occupy the sandy beach area above this mark. This sand is technically private property.
Many Florida communities already respect this private property right, but some have passed local ordinances that allow beachgoers to use private beach property. These local ordinances refer to customary use, or the ability to use portions of the beach used by the public in the past.
One community that has passed this type of ordinance is Walton County. Disputes are arising in this Panhandle community as wealthy real estate investors are purchasing properties in beach communities only to find the public infringing on what they believe are their private beaches. Passage of the new law, which went into effect July 1st, 2018, allows these property owners to have police officers remove beachgoers who otherwise refuse to leave the private property.
It is important to note that certain communities with similar ordinances will continue to allow public access to private beaches. These communities followed the new protocol required to pass these types of ordinances, including court approval and an outline of specific parcels of land.
Is this a settled matter?
Although the law as written appears clear, it is far from a settled matter. A Senator has proposed a new piece of legislation that would repeal the law. Due to the evolving nature of this are of law, it is wise for current property owners in those looking to invest in beach property to stay current on these matters.