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Court Clarifies Lakefront Land Ownership

Associations that border Lake Erie and other bodies of water have often wondered where along the lakefront the Association’s property ends and the public’s property begins. Recently, The Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals in the case of State ex rel Marrill v. ODNR (Case # 2008-L-007) helped to answer that question.

The Plaintiffs, a group of landowners that border Lake Erie, argued that their property rights extend to the “shoreline” of the water, wherever that line may be. The Defendants, the State of Ohio and others, argued that the State of Ohio owns and holds in trust for the people of Ohio the lands and water of Lake Erie up to the natural location of the ordinary high water mark, regardless of the shoreline’s current state.

Siding with the Plaintiffs, the court held that the public owns the land beneath the water at any given moment, and the lakefront property owner owners the dry land above the water. In other words, the lakefront owner owns all of the lake up until the water line. Therefore, as the water levels of Lake Erie rise and fall, so too does the lakefront property line.

This ruling is good news for Ohio’s condominium and homeowner associations which wish to keep lakefront property “private.” Absent a superseding law, agreement, or further review by the Ohio Supreme Court, this court’s ruling provides important clarification regarding where an association’s property ends and the public’s begins. As an association generally has the ability to place reasonable rules and regulations on the comment element property, an association would be able to regulate individual access and activities that takes place on land up until the shoreline.