Coastal Access Toolkit

Acquiring and Transferring Access

Lawyers often compare property ownership to a "bundle of sticks." Each stick represents a separate and distinct property right, such as the right to exclude individuals from your land or to control its use. Landowners can transfer, or "convey," by donation or sale, all of their property interest (i.e., the entire "bundle") or one of the individual "sticks."

What rights of access can be transferred?

Individuals seeking to access the beach or shoreline across privately held land can purchase or acquire access rights from willing landowners. Individuals can also gain access by buying coastal property outright or by buying a more limited right, referred to as an easement, to cross or use it.

To whom can access be transferred?

Landowners can convey their land or the right to cross or use it to anyone they wish. Landowners can transfer interest of their land to facilitate coastal access to individuals, or to entities, organizations, and agencies that have public access as part of their purpose, such as land trusts, local, state and federal governments, and private trusts. Such transfers of property rights are typically achieved through a contract, although transfers can also be made through a will or some other legal instrument.

How can access be enhanced, secured, granted, or created?

Parties can transfer property ownership interest (either the complete title, or a partial interest) through a variety of means. This may include buying the land outright, or partially through easements, conservation easements, development rights, or leases. These interests can be purchased at or below market value, or can be donated depending on the wishes of and related tax benefits to the private property holder. The interests can be conveyed unconditionally (“no strings attached”) or subject to conditions. Landowners, for instance, may sell land but retain the right to get the land back if certain terms and conditions are not met.

What are the tools for granting access?

Landowners can grant access through the sale or donation of easements or partial property interests. Easements grant the holder the right to the use of real property interest of another for a specific purpose. There are a number of kinds of easements and ways that they can address access, including conservation easements, development rights, and floating easements. Because easements do not require the entire parcel, they are significantly cheaper than full title acquisition and are becoming an important and increasingly common tool for addressing coastal access needs (more on easements).

Another option is the development of covenants. A covenant is a written legal promise contained in a contract or a deed of real property. In some situations, a covenant can be used to address water access. For example, mutual covenants between waterside condo owners may dictate rules about how residents or the public can use the condo wharf.

Case Studies

See successful examples of acquisition used to provide access.

More Information

Acquiring and Transferring Access

Land Trusts

Plan and Zone for Access

Using Tax Policy for Access

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Acquiring Access

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