In New York, as a general rule, the touchstone of riparian rights has been the ownership of land touching a navigable waterway. See Bromberg v. Morton 64 AD2d 684 [2d Dept 1978]. As a result, unless expressly reserved by deed, if a waterfront lot is partitioned, any resulting lot that no longer physically touches the water becomes non-waterfront property and loses its riparian rights. Durham v. Ingrassia, 105 Misc2d 191 [Sup Ct., Nassau County 1980].
However, there is a developing line of case law in the Second and Third Departments holding that an easement that provides access to a navigable waterway provides the beneficiary of the easement with the riparian right to construct a dock equal to that of the actual waterfront owner. See Briggs v. Donna, 176 AD2d 1105 [3d Dept 1991].
In Briggs v. Donna, the Third Department held that although there is no language in any of the plaintiffs’ deeds expressly granting a right to construct a dock, the plaintiffs’ dock at the foot of an easement was a “reasonable use” of the easement and incidental to plaintiffs’ access rights under the easement. In short, the easement holder, a non-waterfront landowner, possessed the same riparian rights as the actual waterfront landowner to build a dock to navigable water.
Relying on this reasoning, the Second Department, in Monohan v. Hampton Point, 264 AD2d 764 [2d Dept 1999], reinforced the position that riparian rights extend from an easement to access navigable water. In that case, the court held that, as a matter of law, the easement to access the water was sufficient to create the riparian right of wharfing out, and the subject dock located at the end of an easement leading to a navigational portion of the waterway was a reasonable and incidental use of the easement. See also, Hush v. Taylor 84 AD3d 1532 [3d Dept 2011] Installation of a dock at the end of an easement of this type “is a reasonable use incidental to the purpose of the easement” and is, therefore, permissible).
Under the right circumstances, Courts have reasoned that the existence of an easement to the water’s edge would have been “without purpose” if it did not provide for the construction of a dock or pier to provide access to the waterway.
As a result, this line of case law seems to remove the need for landowners to actually own waterfront land in order to exert their riparian right of access by a dock or pier. Instead, an easement running to the shoreline includes the right to construct a pier or dock to obtain access to navigable water.