Family Loses Pier Rights After Nearly Forty Years of Use

Jack Kapinus v. Joseph Nartowicz, No. 2021AP001027

June 8, 2022

On June 3, 2022, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found a pier that had been installed, maintained and used since 1983 to be unlawful. The dispute arose between neighboring lot owners in a “keyhole development,” wherein three non-residential lots abutting Lake Waubesa in Madison were “reserved for the use of lot owners [in the 1911 plat creating the lots], including boat house and pier privileges for said lot owners.” Despite the specific language on the plat providing pier privileges to back lot owners, the Court of Appeals determined that the language created real property rights akin to an easement for the back lot owners and not ownership of the lots themselves. The critical distinction between easement rights and ownership rights resulted in the removal of the back lot owner’s pier.

Although many sellers, owners, realtors, pier contractors, and developers, may believe that the piers installed, placed and maintained for many years are all “grandfathered in,” this case provides a blunt reminder that riparian rights are far more complex than a simple reliance on statutory grandfathering provisions.

Whether you are a realtor seeking guidance on pier rights for your seller, a buyer looking for a better understanding of your lake access, or a developer desiring to maximize lake frontage for your project, Clair Law has been specializing in riparian rights issues for nearly 30 years. Please let our knowledge and expertise guide you in the process.

To view the Court of Appeals decision, please follow the link:

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