Buying Real Estate on the Lakefront - 4 Important Things to Know (Part 1 of 3)

Buying Real Estate on the Lakefront - 4 Important Things to Know

Buying lakefront property is much more involved than purchasing other types of property.  If you’re a waterfront buyer, I am going to tell you what you need to know before you buy so you don’t end up with a property you can’t utilize the way you want because it’s near a body of water.  

We have watched with keen interest as the regulations on the lake get tougher and tougher, and we think it’s really important anyone buying on the waterfront knows the differences between buying a house in town and a house on the lake.

Lakefront property is subject to many regulations. By no means do I profess to know all of them or even know how they will apply in every situation, however, I am going to give you the broad strokes here of the types of regulations involved. These approvals are government regulated and subject to approval and subject to change. 

Let’s start by understanding that all water in BC is owned by the Crown and is strictly regulated.  Understanding the appropriate regulations and definitions associated with buying, building, renovating or developing lakeshore property can be crucial to ensure your present and future plans for your lakefront property are even possible.

There are 4 important considerations relating to the riparian regulations that you as a lakefront buyer want to investigate before purchasing.  If you don’t plan to rebuild or renovate or change anything with the property you are buying, then none of this necessarily matters, however it’s always good to know what you’re up against in the event that plans change in the future:

1.  Riparian Area Protection Regulation (RAPR):

No doubt you have heard the “riparian area” mentioned.  Riparian areas are areas bordering on streams, lakes and wetlands that link water to land.  These areas are important for biodiversity and provide valuable habitat for many species of flora and fauna.

2.  The Riparian Area Protection Regulation (“RAPR) is provincial legislation that requires local governments to enact bylaws that protect riparian areas during development. A riparian area development permit is required for any development activity within 30 meters of the highwater mark of a waterbody within a riparian development permit area.  Please note this is not a building permit – a building permit must also be obtained prior to any construction.  If you plan to make any changes to this riparian area, or this 30-meter area from the high water mark, then you may need to have your property assessed by a Qualified Environmental Professional which usually means a biologist. 

3.  Riparian “Rights”:

Riparian rights refer to the 3 common law rights of an owner who owns land adjoining public bodies of water which include:

A. Right of access to deep water – which means the Province cannot authorize someone to build something in front of your property that inhibits your access to the deep water of the lake.  What it means is the province couldn’t authorize a marina belonging to another party, say, fronting a person's lot this restricting access for them. It does not mean you can necessarily construct a dock, which we will discuss later. 

B. Right of erosion protection – you can protect your property from erosion however specifications need to be met for retaining walls, etc. 

C. Accretion - Accretion is “the growth in size of a land area, usually by the gradual and imperceptible accumulation of land by natural causes, such as out of the sea or a river”. 

In British Columbia, the Crown owns all the land below the high water mark and the homeowner owns the land above the high watermark.  High watermarks can change over time, which means your property line could also change over time.  The only way to determine the exact property line of a lakefront home is to hire a BC Land Surveyor have a new survey completed to re-define the property to take into account any accretion or erosion of the property.  If the high water mark has moved farther out and your current property line is actually inside the high water mark, since you technically own the property right to the high watermark, you can go through the process to include this additional area into your property.  Establishing a correct property line is important for establishing a building envelope for a potential build (or addition), building on the water (i.e. constructing a dock) or building a retaining wall. 

4.  Foreshore and Private Moorage:

Property lines extend to, however, do not include, the foreshore.  Foreshore is the land between the high and low watermarks of the water body.  Aquatic Crown land is all the land, including the foreshore, from the high water mark out to the limits of provincial jurisdiction.  In BC, the province owns nearly all the freshwater and saltwater foreshore. 

Technically the upland owner has no rights to use or “possess” the water, only a right to access deep water and as such, this is why permission is required from the Provincial Crown to build structures that are on or over the foreshore. 

This term is important for lakefront buyers, particularly when it comes to building a new dock or determining whether an existing dock is conforming or not.   In any contract of purchase and sale, the buyer’s realtor should ask for all documentation relating to the current dock in place and the buyer should contact BC Front Counter to ensure that permission can be obtained to utilize the foreshore after the title transfers to the new owner. 

Many of the current docks do not comply with the 2020 Dock Design Regulations, making what is called a General Permission unobtainable.  However, Specific Permission may be granted if the dock was built prior to these new regulations and complied with the regulations in place at the time.  Which many still don’t comply with any regulations.  Ever. 

Sometimes alterations will need to be made before Permission of any sort is possible and those alterations usually become part of contract negotiations. 

This is too involved for this video, however, please see our next video entitled:  “ 7 Steps for Building a House on the Lakefront in the Okanagan” here: for more information on building on the lakefront.  Or view our third video in the series entitled:  "Building or Buying a Dock on Lakefront in the Okanagan" here

I’m sure you can see why it is so important to call a Realtor who specializes in lakefront and resort properties when buying, or selling, lakefront.  Be sure to call the experts at RE/MAX Vernon Salt Fowler and “Just Add Salt!”


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