The Legalities of Living on the Water: 5 Questions to Consider Before Buying Waterfront Property

A breathtaking view, unbeatable proximity to the beach and the calming sound of the tide make living on the water a dream to many—but if you are considering buying waterfront property in Myrtle Beach, be aware of the legalities of living on the water and consult a real estate attorney in Myrtle Beach SC.

Purchasing and owning waterfront property presents a unique set of legal considerations:

  1. Does the public or community have a right to access the property?

Some jurisdictions require an open public space at the water’s edge, wide enough to traverse the shoreline; others do not. As this possibility is bound to impact your use and enjoyment of the land, it is important to know what requirements, if any, apply to the property you are considering.

Alternatively, properties located in development communities may require community access to beaches, docks, or piers. If the property requires you to be a part of a homeowners’ association, it is important to be clear about how any covenants, restrictions, or bylaws will impact your waterfront property.


  1. Will your property extend to the water’s edge?

Before buying waterfront property you should obtain a survey and understand the littoral and riparian rights in that jurisdiction.

Littoral rights apply to properties located on a large body of water where a tide rises and falls like an ocean, sea, bay, or a large lake. Riparian rights are held by those owning property along a flowing stream or river. Littoral and riparian rights vary from state to state.

In some jurisdictions, private property rights may not extend to the water’s edge and property lines will be identified by geographical coordinates, while other jurisdictions, recognizing the changing nature of a shoreline, do extend property rights to the water’s edge, rather than identifying the property’s boundaries with a static line.  A real estate attorney in Myrtle Beach, SC can advise you on the specific littoral and/or riparian rights you would possess as a property owner.


  1. What local zoning ordinances apply to the property?

When building new construction or even making changes to existing structures, you must comply with local zoning ordinances. Specific ordinances that govern waterfront property include restrictions on lot size, restrictions to the height of a structure, how far back from the water a structure must be built (setback lines), limitations relating to vegetation, and details concerning docks and piers.  

Zoning ordinances also include restrictions on property for the use of single-family, multi-family, or commercial use. If a property is zoned as single-family, multi-family use of a dock may be prohibited. In addition, zoning ordinances can limit the number of boats that may be docked.


  1. Is the property located in a flood zone or prone to coastal hazards?

Properties located in flood zones or areas prone to coastal hazards may be subject to further regulations. In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management regulates new construction on the shoreline and implements South Carolina’s Beach Management Plan. Our firm can guide you and advise you as to how these laws and regulations impact your prospective property.


  1. Are there any easements or restrictive covenants on the land?

In addition to local zoning ordinances, a restrictive covenant—a private agreement recorded in the Register of Deeds and affecting the property—may establish further setback lines from the water’s edge or dictate whether the property can be used for certain purposes.

Upon inspecting the land, you might notice a pathway of foot traffic. If others are crossing the property to get to the water or to get to another property,  it is important to determine whether they have a right to do so. It is possible that there is an easement or right of way to ingress and egress over the property. An easement is a non-possessory property interest that conveys a right to use another person’s land for a specific purpose.

Prior to buying waterfront property, it is crucial to have a proper title search conducted to determine whether any easements or restrictive covenant on the property are recorded in the deed.


These are just some of the important legal considerations involved in purchasing real estate on the water.

Whether you are looking to buy waterfront property in Myrtle Beach or you are a property owner seeking guidance on how to navigate a legal issue pertaining to your Myrtle Beach property, our highly experienced real estate attorneys would be glad to assist you.

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