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This Week In Real Estate: Movable Fee

Last week, we discussed the rights of owners of property that contains and/or is adjacent to bodies of water. We left off with a question: What happens when the boundary line of the property adjacent to the body of water changes?

The rules of law determinative of how boundary line changes regarding lands adjacent to bodies of water with the addition or subtraction of land due to natural or artificial forces is called the Movable Fee. The law is governed by two doctrines: the doctrine of accretion/erosion and the doctrine of avulsion. The doctrines have been adopted by statute or judicial decision in nearly all states, as well as by the federal courts and federal common law.

Accretion is the gradual and imperceptible deposit of material to create dry land, which was previously covered by water resulting in the increase in riparian land.  Erosion refers to the gradual washing away of land bordering a body of water. Avulsion, however, is the process whereby there is a sudden and perceptible loss of or addition to riparian land or a sudden change in the bed or course of a stream. The main difference between erosion/accretion and avulsion is that the owner of the riparian land loses title to land lost by erosion and gains land acquired by accretion, whereas if an avulsion occurs, the boundary lines stay the same regardless of the change of the waterline.

In conclusion, as long as addition or subtraction of land is sudden and/or perceptible, it would constitute an avulsion – resulting in no change in the boundary lines of the property. However, if the change is gradual, the boundary line of the riparian land changes accordingly.

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Jim Landon has practiced real estate law since 2002 and has been involved in real estate investment and construction for most of his life. Jim’s practice focuses on real estate transactions and land use.

Jim represents individuals and privately and publicly held companies in the purchase, sale, leasing, financing, and development of real property. He also represents title insurance companies on commercial purchases and refinancing transactions, as well as providing third-party legal opinions regarding Delaware law related to Delaware entities.







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