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Property that abuts water is subject to change over years. Often, property lines can change and the owner does not become aware of the movement in boundaries until a dispute arises with a neighboring landowner or government entity, or is willed property and examines the deed as compared to the newly acquired land.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines accretion with regard to real property as “[t]he gradual accumulation of land by natural forces, esp. as an alluvium is added to land situated on the bank of a river or on the seashore.” Shore lines are often used as property limits but are not necessarily static. When a water line is used as a defining border of a piece of property and that water line is moved in a direction so as to add land to the parcel in question, that increase in land becomes the part of the parcel and is rightfully owned by the owner of the waterfront land.
A necessary element for land to be added by changes in water lines that define property limits is the gradual nature of that change so that the change becomes perceptible only over long periods of time. However, water lines are subject to abrupt, overnight changes caused by severe storms. Such change is known as avulsion. Avulsion does not cause a change in property lines despite the fact that the previous water line defined the property limits.
The opposite of accretion is erosion. Land can be washed away by natural forces of water flow and land becomes lost with respect to the shoreline or river bank. Accretion and erosion frequently occur in pairs and the loss in square footage in one parcel becomes an addition to another.
Consider the rapid expansion of a river affected by heavy rainfall which causes flooding that covers the houses built on adjacent land. It would be a substantial breach of justice for the riparian land owners to suffer loss of the property caused by avulsion, however, temporary it might be. Just as this is the law, exceptions to the rules governing accretion and erosion can apply to special situations.
The difference between changes created by accretion and erosion and those created by avulsion can be difficult to determine, yet the ownership of associated acreage pivots on the distinction. Courts have used the perceptibility test to determine the difference. The modern trend is that avulsion is deemed to apply only when the change takes place as the result of an event such as a severe storm.
Get legal assistance to protect your ownership rights
If you inherited property defined, in part, by the bank of a river or the shores of a lake or ocean, and you observe a disparity between the property itself and the description in the deed, you need legal assistance to protect your property rights. Contact the attorneys at The Kamerow Law Firm, PLLC, for a free and confidential consultation by calling 703-370-8088.