Outside Legal Counsel PLC

New Lawsuit Questions Whether Sanford Lake Property Owners Have Water Rights

For Immediate Release | Sep 09, 2018

Midland, Michigan - As part of a lawsuit started by the Sanford Lake Preservation Association, a local resident sued by the Association asks a simple question: what are the legal "water rights" of property owners on Sanford Lake? A Midland County judge has been asked to decide who holds the "riparian" or "littoral" rights to Sanford Lake. Riparian/littoral rights refer to those property rights which gives lakefront property owners the ability to gain access to the lake waters for boating, swimming, fishing, and to install a seawall or seasonal dock.

The case started in the Trycove subdivision, a small subdivision on the southern end of Edenville Township along the east side of Sanford Lake consisting of Jesse and Leonard Streets.

Despite having nearly a 100 years of deeds and explicitly having a deed from the former Wolverine Power Company giving her predecessor title to the shorelands, the Sanford Lake Preservation Association sued Jill Couch, the Leonard Street cottage owner, claiming the Association held legal ownership to the shorelands and lakebottom of Sanford Lake based on an agreement with the Midland County Treasurerís Office. The problem is that Michigan law does not support that assertion.

Michigan water rights, known as riparian or littoral rights, directs that lakebottom property (i.e the land under the water) is not alienable, severable, divisible, or assignable from the shorelands. Couchís deeds shows she is the shoreland owner.

Couch is being represented by riparian/littoral rights attorney Philip L. Ellison of the law firm of Outside Legal Counsel (www.olcplc.com).

"This lawsuit stated by the Association has huge implications for all lake front parcel owners north of the Sanford Dam," states Ellison.

"If the Associationís legal claims are accepted, water-front property owners will lose the legal right to put out a dock, and also cannot legally swim, boat, or enjoy the waters of Sanford Lake, Ellison warns.

Water rights are a form of valuable property which grant lakefront property owners certain legal rights to use and enjoy a lake or river. Michigan common law (or case decisions) have distinguished between a completely natural lake or river which has riparian/littoral rights from a man-made lake or waterway which does not. Sanford Lake is technically a river which has an impoundment created by the Sanford Dam. Michigan law has not dealt with this legal question.

The case has been assigned to Judge Stephen P. Carras of the Midland County Circuit Court. No court date has been set yet.