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One of the most important factors for buyers when searching for the right waterfront property, is the existence of a pier, or the ability of the buyer to build a pier. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, there are more than 200,000 registered boats in the State of Maryland and for the vast majority of those boat owners, there would be nothing better than to have their boat docked in front of their house.

When evaluating whether an existing pier will work for a given buyer, or whether a suitable pier could be constructed at the property, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account. Some of these include the length of the pier, the depth of the water at the pier, and how many slips can be maintained at the pier.

Equally important is the careful consideration of potential legal issues.

Does the property have riparian rights?

The first most fundamental legal question that needs to be answered is whether the property has riparian rights. Riparian rights are, except in limited circumstances, a condition precedent to building a pier. If a property does not have riparian rights, it may still be possible to build a pier, but typically a pier construction agreement will need to be obtained from whoever holds the riparian rights associated with the applicable waterfront area. There are a number of neighborhoods, where the community association holds some or all of the riparian rights and pier construction agreements between the homeowner and the community association are required.

Is the pier shared with another property?

It is not uncommon for property owners to share piers, especially for properties located in coves where space is limited. In these situations, it is important to review a copy of any existing agreement, or if there is not an existing agreement, to ensure one is in place prior to purchasing the home so as to limit the potential for future disputes over the use and maintenance of the pier.

Could there be permitting or zoning issues?

Buyers also need to be aware of any relevant permitting and land use issues that may affect an existing pier or the buyers’ ability to build a new pier. For existing piers, buyers should check with county permitting office to ensure the pier was built with the proper permits. When building a new pier, or replacing or modifying an existing pier, buyers need to pay special attention to any land use restrictions that may inhibit their ability to build, replace or modify a pier. To that end, buyers should consider consulting with a civil engineer or land use attorney prior to purchasing to ensure there are no zoning issues that would restrict their ability to construct a pier on the property.

Tom Simmons is a Vice President with Eagle Title and a Partner with Liff, Walsh, and Simmons. Tom is recognized by the legal community as both a Super Lawyers Rising Star and a Leading Lawyer in the field of Real Estate and has been recognized as an expert witness on the subject in a number of courts in the State of Maryland.

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Tom Simmons is a Vice President with Eagle Title, LLC, and the director of the commercial division, overseeing the company’s commercial transactions. Prior to serving as the director of the commercial division, Tom served as title review counsel for both the residential and commercial divisions, having reviewed title on more than 2,000 transactions. To contact Tom for more information, email or call (443) 569-7270