Cottage boundaries are affected by a lot of things. The deed may be hundreds of years old and may include all the land to the water’s edge, or only include land to the high water mark, which is typically farther up the bank, where the first vegetation appears.
When Ontario’s cottage country lakes were surveyed in the late 1800s, surveyors allocated a 66 foot wide strip at the lake shore for a road. The purpose was for logging and to allow public access to the water. The road allowances were eventually transferred to the local townships, but in most cases no actual road was ever built along these allowances. Some cottagers have since built on this land, but don’t actually own it.
The Great Lakes have been receding due to climate change and water use, so beachfront has been expanding in some cases. The question is: who owns the land when the water retreats?
In many cases, there’s a rush by cottagers to secure the land for themselves. But it is often hard to figure out how to set the new boundaries, as it is not often a straight line.
Here’s a case in point:
Douglas and Jacqueline Andriet owned land in Grandview Bay on Cooking Lake, near Edmonton. Like many shallow prairie lakes, the Cooking Lake shoreline had receded in the past century. By 2008, the shoreline was about 1,000 feet less than the 1902 survey.
The Andriets, their neighbours, the County of Strathcona and the Alberta Government all got into a fight over who owned this large section of so-called accreted land. If the province owned it then the Andriets and other cottagers would have no right to access the water.
A trial judge decided that since the original deeds were to a fixed point, no one except the province could make a claim for the land. But a Court of Appeal decision dated January 25, 2008, decided the land should be equitably divided between the cottagers and the local county. The result was that a new survey was commissioned to permit each owner whose land touched the water to have some part of it.
The only way to figure out where your boundary lines are is to get a survey. I believe every lakefront cottage purchase should be conditional upon the buyer being satisfied with the results of a new survey.
In some cases, you can buy the shore road allowance from the local municipality for between $5,000 and $10,000. First you need a bylaw to close the road allowance and then a motion to sell it to you. An advantage in owning this land is that it will increase your lot size, allowing you to build a cottage addition.
Another reason for an up to date survey is to figure out whether you have proper access to your cottage. In some cases, it has turned out that where the road is located may not be where title says that your access actually is. If it is not a municipal road, then it may not be maintained in the winter.
Know your rights before you jump into a waterfront cottage