Each year, the months of June to November keep property owners across the State of Florida a bit on edge when storms begin brewing out in the Gulf and the Atlantic. This past weekend tropical depression Claudette kicked off the 2021 hurricane season, signaling to property owners across the state that it is time to begin making the necessary preparations in advance of potential storms. In addition to stocking up on batteries, plywood, and water, property owners should be aware of potential legal consequences resulting from a hurricane or tropical storm.
Damage to land
The first and perhaps most readily apparent of these consequences is when a hurricane causes a sudden change to the shoreline otherwise known as avulsion. The United States Supreme Court defined avulsion as:
the sudden or perceptible loss of or addition to the land by the action of the water or a sudden change in the bed of a lake or the course of a stream.”
Hurricanes are considered avulsive events under Florida law, which – unlike other erosion events (such as accretion or reliction which are more gradual) – preserves the property boundary at the mean high water mark existing prior to the storm. In the aftermath of a hurricane which causes a sudden loss of the shoreline, that boundary remains the same, entitling the State to reclaim or back fill that portion of the beach to ensure that the public right of access is not cut off.
Beachfront owners should be cognizant of the location of the mean high water mark or any coastal construction control line. After a storm passes, this will allow beachfront owners to better understand how the storm impacted their property boundary, and whether the State has any rights to backfill a portion of the beach that was lost.