Pulgini & Norton is comprised of seasoned real estate attorneys with more than four decades of experience advising home owners in the Boston region. We represent and counsel individuals on a broad range of matters, including beach access laws. If you own property with access to the shore, we can explain and answer any questions regarding your rights.Beach Access
If you own property along the Massachusetts coast, you likely have more private rights to the area along the beach than the owners of coastal property in most other states. The Massachusetts Colonial Ordinances of 1641-1647 extended an owner’s private boundaries to the low tide water mark on his or her property. In other words, a coastal private property owner in Massachusetts owns the beach area adjacent to his or her property. The public has no right to access the area without the owner’s consent, unless the access falls within a particular exception. This means that if you own property with beach access, you generally have the right to exclude the public from using the area under Massachusetts law.Limited Public Access to a Private Beach
While you may be able to keep the public from accessing your private beach in most cases, there are some exceptions. Under Massachusetts law, a person can have access to a private beach if he or she is:
- Fishing, or collecting shellfish by either foot or while on a vessel;
- Fowling, or hunting for birds either by foot or boat; or
- Navigating, which includes windsurfing, sailing, or floating on a raft.
The fishing, fowling, and navigation exceptions often lead to problems between a private property owner and the public. For instance, a person may carry a fishing rod while walking on a private beach in order to claim the right to access the property under the fishing exception. Swimming can also fall into the navigation exception in some cases.Potential Loss of Your Private Right to Shore Access
Many beachfront property owners are concerned with losing their right to private access to the beach if they allow the public to use it. A property owner may lose his or right to the beachfront area if a person or municipality acquires an easement by prescription or adverse possession. The person or municipality would have to show that the use of the property was adverse, which means that the use was open, continuous, and notorious for more than 20 years. The property owner would then have to counter this claim by proving that he or she gave the person or municipality permission to use the property. For instance, an owner can post a sign that gives the public permission to access the beach on the property. If you give the public open and permissive access to your private beach, it is much harder for anyone to make a claim that the use was adverse.Public Use of a Coastal Area and Liability for Injuries
If you do give the public permission to use you private beach, you are generally protected from liability for injuries that occur on the property. Under Massachusetts law, a property owner is not liable for any injuries or damage that occur on his or her property if he or she gives the public permission to use the property for recreational, scientific, and other uses without charging a fee. You would, however, be liable if the injury or damage was caused by your reckless or willful conduct.Seek Guidance from a Boston Attorney Regarding Your Property Rights
The property lawyers at Pulgini & Norton provide knowledgeable counseling and representation to individuals in Boston and the surrounding cities. If you own coastal real estate, we can advise you on Massachusetts beach access laws and your right to limit public use. We also advise property owners on other types of real estate matters, including zoning, financing, and the purchase and sale of homes. We serve clients in Quincy, Weymouth, and Somerville, among other Massachusetts communities. Call our office at 781-843-2200, or complete our online form to schedule a consultation.