In Ontario, waterfront property owners get much more than a great view—they also benefit from access to the shoreline and certain associated rights. At the same time, shoreline law can also restrict how waterfront property owners use their shorelines. 

So, what rights do waterfront property owners have – and what can (and can’t) waterfront property owners do at their shoreline? We’ll answer these questions – and more – in the following blog post. 

The Basic Principles of Ontario Shoreline Law

Shoreline law in Ontario is built on the common law concept of “riparian rights” for tidal waters. Individuals who own land next to a body of water are granted specific rights regarding the reasonable use of the water and shoreline along their property. Also, riparian rights holders can enforce their rights against other parties in court. 

Does My Property Include Riparian Rights? 

Remember that riparian rights do not apply to all properties with a “waterfront.” For instance, many properties may have a waterfront view, but their property line does not extend to the body of water such that riparian rights would apply. Or, even if your property is adjacent to the shoreline, it’s possible that another entity (for example, the Crown) owns the land between your property and the shoreline or that a shoreline road allowance exists. 

If unsure whether your property has riparian rights, check your property deed or the Reference Plan or Plan of Subdivision registered on the title. An experienced real estate lawyer can help you locate this information or explain your rights in further detail if you have questions. 

Remember, also, that unless exceptional circumstances apply, the Beds of Navigable Waters Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. B.4 states that the land under navigable bodies of water (or “bed”) is owned by the Government of Ontario, meaning that riparian rights do not extend to the use of the land underneath and only to the water. 

What Do Riparian Rights Allow Me To Do? 

A property’s riparian rights may include different types of rights depending on the type of property, body of water, and other factors. Some common types of riparian rights relate to the following: 


Riparian rights will typically grant waterfront property owners access to the water from their property and the right to construct specific structures, like docks or boathouses, along the shoreline. 

Water Use

Waterfront property owners may be entitled to use water on their shoreline for drinking, bathing, irrigation, and other personal uses.

Maintaining the Flow of Water

Waterfront property owners are entitled to enjoy the flow of water without interruption. For example, if their property borders a river and the flow of water changes due to human intervention, the property owner may be able to enforce their riparian rights against the responsible party. 

Water Quality

Riparian rights often include the right to undiminished water quality. Therefore, if the body of water bordering the waterfront property owner’s house becomes polluted due to another party’s actions, the owner may be able to enforce their riparian rights against that party. 

Natural Accretion and Erosion

Waterfront property owners must consider their rights relating to natural accretion (e.g., the expansion of their property through a buildup of soil or natural deposits along the shoreline) and erosion. Through accretion, property owners may end up with more land over time. Conversely, property owners may lose a portion of their property through erosion. However, property owners may have the right to protect their property from erosion while enjoying the benefits of natural accretion. 

Shoreline Law and Limits on Riparian Rights 

While riparian rights benefit waterfront property owners, many factors can impact Ontario’s riparian rights. Below are some common categories of restrictions on riparian rights. 

Riparian Rights

You might be thinking: what do you mean? How do my riparian rights limit my rights? The truth is that riparian rights can go both ways. While riparian rights allow waterfront property owners to enjoy many privileges associated with adjacent water, they can also impose obligations on these owners. 

For example, suppose you own property next to a river. While you may enjoy some rights regarding using that water, your use of the river cannot impede the riparian rights of other waterfront property owners on that same river. In that sense, riparian rights may, in some cases, be relative to the impact of your use on other waterfront property owners who may be affected by your actions. 

Municipal Bylaws

Depending on the municipality in which your property is located, municipal bylaws may establish limits on your riparian rights. For example, a town or city may have bylaws regulating land use or development, including activities along waterfront areas. These bylaws may impact a waterfront property owner’s ability to construct a structure on the shoreline or impose additional restrictions or requirements on construction. 

Water Management and Licensing

Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks manages Ontario’s water resources. Depending on how much water a waterfront property owner intends to use for their personal use, they may require a water-taking permit or licence or face other conditions to ensure responsible water use. 

Conclusions on Shoreline Law in Ontario 

Ontario has no legislation governing riparian rights, so it can be challenging for waterfront property owners to determine whether they have riparian rights and, if so, what they can do with them. 

A prudent first step for any waterfront property owner is to confirm whether their property comes with associated riparian rights by referencing their property deed, Reference Plan, or Plan of Subdivision to verify their property boundaries. 

Regardless of whether a property comes with associated riparian rights, it’s essential for homeowners to think critically about their actions or use of water adjacent to their property and to conduct proper investigations into adequately exercising their rights. For example, while riparian rights might give a waterfront property owner the right to construct a boathouse on the shoreline if they so choose, they must consider whether municipal bylaws impact those plans. 

Navigating Ontario’s murky waters of shoreline law can be a challenging experience for homeowners. If you have questions regarding riparian rights or shoreline law and how it applies to your property, speak to an experienced real estate lawyer today. 

Ottawa Real Estate Lawyers Helping Clients Throughout Ontario

Whether you’ve purchased a rural waterfront property or a condominium in the heart of Ottawa, Tierney Stauffer LLP’s lawyers are ready to assist. Our team has extensive experience helping clients with various real estate matters and ensures nothing goes overlooked so your transaction goes smoothly. To speak with an experienced real estate lawyer, call us at 1-888-799-8057 or online


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