Study: Will The Wealthy Displace Working Class Residents From Their Traditional Inland Neighborhoods When Sea Level Rise Floods Coastal Real Estate?

Sea level rise flooding, like all natural disasters, tends to harm the people who can least afford it the most. In many cases, low income residents tend to own coastal real estate that isn’t well-protected from rising seas and they may be forced by high costs to go without flood insurance. A new study released this week concluded that low income residents inland from the coast could also face extreme hardship as wealthier coastal real estate owners are forced to abandon their properties and move inland.

The study, titled “Addressing Climate Driven Displacement: Planning for Sea Level Rise In Florida’s Coastal Communities and Affordable Housing in Inland Communities in the Face of Climate Gentrification”, was produced by The Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University. Researchers operated on the assumption that the day will arrive — likely toward the end of this century — when investing in expensive infrastructure — such as elevating properties and installing pumps — will no longer be enough to save sea level rise-inundated coastal properties. When this happens, they predict that higher income coastal residents will move inland to the higher elevation areas now inhabited by working class Floridians.

As they do this, lower income residents will “face increasing pressures to relocate, either voluntarily (eg. selling their homes and businesses) or involuntarily (eg. being evicted for redevelopment projects or unable to afford increasing rents). Experts refer to the process of the wealthy forcing out working class residents as “climate gentrification”.

The study’s researchers said they examined the issue to see if Florida communities are preparing for this type of population displacement. What they found is that with coastal displacement more likely to occur later in this century, local governments aren’t doing anything now to address the inequity that will likely occur when wealthy real estate owners begin to move inland from the coast. They’re calling on “Florida’s policy makers, planners, public officials, advocates, and developers (to) lay the groundwork for a more equitable transition to a new reality imposed by climate change and sea level rise.”

In their conclusion they write: “Florida’s coastal communities can buy time before coastal displacement is overwhelming and shore up policies and investment in lower income neighborhoods to minimize future displacement through gentrification there. It is an imperfect solution to an insurmountable problem, but it reduces the pace and scale of the disruption and reduces the harm faced by those who are likely to suffer most.”

As a resident of South Florida, I’m already seeing gentrification taking place, not due to sea level rise, but due to wealthy northerners’ insatiable hunger for South Florida real estate. The city I live in is upgrading the infrastructure in traditionally working class neighborhoods located inland not to protect the affordable housing there but to make it easier for developers to purchase properties and build higher end housing there. Lower income property owners forced to compete with the wealthy in this situation are also made more vulnerable to displacement by property taxes that rise as their real estate appreciates, escalating insurance costs, and general inflation for things like home maintenance, food and utilities.

This harsh reality makes it easy to imagine that climate gentrification will become a reality when coastal areas can no longer be defended from sea level rise flooding. The researchers state in their report that they’re not sure there’s the political will present to protect the working class from being displaced. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t exist and certainly not on the scale that’s needed. It will be interesting to see if the will to protect the working class — who are needed for a healthy economy — develops as lower income residents are increasingly displaced by people moving here from out of state. If it does, it may increase the odds of a more equitable retreat from the coast due to sea level rise in the coming decades.

New Miami-Dade County Law Makes it Easier for Buyers to Evaluate Condo Building Maintenance and Reserves

The tragic collapse of a the condo building in Surfside, Florida, that claimed 98 lives continues to force changes in the way real estate is bought and sold all across the country. This month, Freddie Mac and Fannie May, the quasi-government organizations that back many of the nations mortgages, began requiring condo associations to answer detailed questionnaires about a building’s maintenance, repairs, and reserves to determine overall safety and financial soundness as part of the process lenders use to evaluate mortgage applications.

On Tuesday, the Miami Dade County Commission took transparency a step further and unanimously passed a new law requiring condo and homeowner’s associations to file detailed financial and maintenance records for inclusion in an online library. Currently, Florida real estate law requires sellers to provide buyers with these documents only upon request AFTER a sales contract is executed. The buyer is then given three days from receipt of the information to cancel the contract if they don’t like what they see.

Some real estate agents told the Miami Herald they’re relieved that the new database is being created. They complained that condo associations and homeowners associations often made it difficult for sellers and buyers to access the relevant documents and too often they were delivered incomplete.

One potential shortcoming of the law is that the associations are only required to file the documents on an annual basis, which leaves the possibility that the information will be outdated by the time a buyer receives it. This could lead to a buyer not being aware of such critical information as a costly special assessment that is under review or approved since the last annual filing. Note to Buyers: Still request the latest condo docs and financials when conducting a review.

Overall, the move toward greater transparency regarding real estate is a huge plus for buyers and owners, especially when sea level rise is already causing maintenance and funding challenges for condo developments located on or near the coast. Regardless of a coastal state’s laws, buyers everywhere need to take a look at condo association and homeowner’s association documents and financials before they commit to close a deal.

UN Report Warns Climate Change Threatens Not Only Sea Level Rise Real Estate but Human Survival Itself

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal, climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” — Hans-Otto Portner, Co-Chair of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations’ group that assesses the science related to climate change, issued a dire warning for humanity regarding climate change today. “To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” the IPCC said in a media release. “So far progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.”

The IPCC report is attractive massive media coverage not only for its strong wording but because of the urgency of its prediction that humans don’t have much longer to reduce the amount of fossil fuels — such as coal, oil and natural gas — it burns before it reaches a tipping point.

Businesses are taking notice. A Reuters article published today says governments and regulators are just starting to issue rules that require companies to alert investors to the impact climate change is having on their operations today and the threats they’ll face in the future.

Coastal real estate buyers, owners and investors, too, need to start gathering facts about the risk sea level rise poses to a property of interest and the neighborhood and community its located in. To make educated decisions, they need to know information such as if a property is currently experiencing sea level rise flooding, if it will in the near future, if roads and other critical infrastructure that serve the property are being impacted by flooding, and what the local government intends to do about it. They also need to know if the homeowner’s association or condo board, if there is one, plans to do to address sea level rise.

These types of questions will help them to gauge the impact sea level rise will have on maintenance and insurance costs, tax rates, association dues and special assessments, and, ultimately, property value. It will also give them an idea if there’s a threat that insurers and/or mortgage providers will stop providing policies and loans in a given area.

This might sound far-fetched to some people. But, just this month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced a policy that they would not back mortgages in condo developments that weren’t properly maintained and that didn’t have the reserves to pay for routine and emergency maintenance. As sea level rises and damages more coastal real estate, it’s a good bet lenders will get tougher in approving loans in areas experiencing property-damaging sea level rise. This will impact the ability buyers to buy properties and of owners and investors to sell them.

While sounding negative, the IPCC report will actually have a positive effect if it spurs governments, businesses and individuals to get involved in the fight against climate change and global warming before the window of opportunity closes for good.

What Does a Foot or More of Predicted Sea Level Rise Mean in Real Real Estate Terms?

The foot or more of sea level rise government scientists recently predicted coastal cities and towns will see by 2050 doesn’t sound like much, especially if you live in a community that isn’t being impacted by the first foot of sea level rise that’s accumulated in the last hundred years. To people who own real estate located in areas that are now experiencing sea level rise flooding and those in the red zone targeted by the next foot, it’s a huge deal. I live in South Florida, and I’m witnessing firsthand what sea level rise flooding can do to a coastal community.

The Union of Concerned scientists predicted that an additional foot of sea level rise will put 140,000 homes at risk of flooding every other week. This means coastal cities and towns are going to have to step up their efforts to fend off floodwaters by, among other things, building higher seawalls, installing pump systems, elevating roads and other critical infrastructure, expanding flood-water absorbing wetlands, and replenishing eroded beaches.

Private real estate owners, too, are going to have to be more diligent in taking steps to protect their properties. More and more of them are going to have to install, reinforce or heighten seawalls and elevate docks, structures and entire homes. In condo communities, owners face the specter of higher association fees and special assessments to cover the cost of protecting common areas and buildings from flooding.

In cases where sea level rise floodwaters cannot be held back, private property owners are going to face a host of problems. As owners of real estate located in neighborhoods that flood now can attest, typically the first sign of sea level rise is seawater collecting on roadways or rising up out of storm drains that would normally drain into the ocean, a harbor or other waterway. Sounds like a minor problem, until you have to park blocks away from your home and wade through the water to reach your front door. Driving through seawater is out of the question. The salt is extremely corrosive to vehicles.

The next step in the typical sea level rise flooding progression is floodwater collecting on a property, where it can rend septic systems inoperable, pollute freshwater wells, and damage landscaping and exterior structures. In cases where the seawater enters a home, the costs can be devastating. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program website has a flood damage calculator that estimates an inch of water alone can cause nearly $27,000 damage to a 2,500 home. A foot of floodwater can cost over $72,000 to repair.

In extreme cases, local governments are determining that it’s no longer cost-effective to maintain and rebuild roads and critical infrastructure to serve properties that are repeatedly inundated. Officials are insisting on buyouts, where they pay an owner fair market value to abandon their homes. It’s important to note that buyouts are expensive and only possible where federal and state funding is available. It’s uncertain how long the government will be able to afford buyouts. If the funding dries up, real estate owners could be left with properties that regularly flood, aren’t insurable, and are impossible to sell.

The immediate coastline isn’t the only place at risk from sea level rise. In areas like South Florida that are built on porous limestone or Honolulu that are built on porous volcanic rock, higher seas can push seawater inland underground. The dense seawater, in turn, can force the fresh water table upward toward the surface where it saturates soils. This can create three problems: 1) Unable to absorb rainwater, the saturated soils can cause surface flooding; 2) Septic systems that rely on dry soil to filter impurities can become inoperable when saturated soils can’t handle any more water; and 3) Fresh water well systems can become polluted by saltwater making them unusable.

Beyond the physical problems floodwater presents to coastal communities, private property owners also have to keep an eye on trends in the property tax, insurance and mortgage sectors. Coastal communities are fighting for federal and state funding to pay for sea level rise control projects. When the money runs short, local taxpayers will have to cover the bill for flood prevention projects.

The National Flood Insurance Program is already in the process of making sure that owners of properties most at-risk of flooding pay higher premiums. And, after the tragic condo building collapse last summer in Surfside, Florida, mortgage backers Fannie May and Freddie Mac are now forcing condo associations to answer detailed questions about building maintenance and the level of reserve funds available to cover routine maintenance and repairs. In instances where buildings are deemed to be poorly maintained, short on cash, or unsafe, lenders will be barred from issuing mortgages. This new policy is already wreaking havoc in the South Florida condo market, where closings are being delayed due to the stringent requirements. The threat is compounded by the fact that even cash buyers can be forced to show that they will be able to get a mortgage if they don’t have enough resources to cover the cost of a condo.

With all of these factors in play, it’s clear that the prospect of another foot of sea level rise is something that real estate owners and buyers can no longer afford to shrug off and ignore. Every additional inch of water that accumulates between now and 2050 is going to compound the challenges faced by coastal communities. Due diligence — staying up to date on the latest developments and responding appropriately — is the only way to protect real estate investments.

140,000 US Homes At-Risk as Scientists Predict Another Foot of Sea Level Rise Over the Next 30 Years

Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report today that predicted up to a foot of sea level rise by 2050. That’s equal to all the sea level rise that has occurred over the last century.

Researchers at NOAA and a half dozen other federal agencies relied on a combination of data from tide gauges, satellite observations, and climate modeling to reach their conclusion. “The new data on sea rise is the latest reconfirmation that our climate crisis — as the President has said — is blinking code red,” Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor, said in a news release posted on the NOAA website. “We must redouble our efforts to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change while, at the same time, help our coastal communities become more resilient in the face of rising seas.”

The NOAA report says at least two feet of sea level rise is likely by the end of this century. Other studies say we could see as much as eight feet if not enough is done to curtail the burning of greenhouse-gas-producing coal, oil and natural gas.

“By 2050, moderate flooding — which is typically disruptive and damaging by today’s weather, sea level and infrastructure standards — is expected to occur more than 10 times as often as it does today,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA National Ocean Service Director, in the news release. “These numbers mean a change from a single event every 2-5 years to multiple events each year, in some places.”

Kristina Dahl, a climate scientists with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Washington Post that 140,000 homes would be put at risk of flooding every other week on average if the NOAA prediction comes true.

Considering that many coastal communities are already spending millions of dollars to combat regular bouts of sea level rise flooding — even in the absence of coastal storms — the NOAA report should act as a call to arms for cities and towns not yet engaged in fighting rising waters. Among the risks for coastal real estate owners is higher taxes — as governments seek ways to fund projects to prevent sea level rise flooding — higher flood insurance premiums, and higher maintenance costs if their properties are inundated by sea water. Condo owners could also face costly special assessments to flood-proof their properties.

Another threat to real estate owners is the possibility that insurers will stop writing policies in flood-stricken areas. Mortgage providers, too might stop providing loans for properties that can’t be insured and that might not be functional for the full term of a 30-year mortgage.

Powerful New Tool Gives Real Estate Owners, Developers, Planners & Government Officials a Detailed View of the Threats Posed by Sea Level Rise

One of the greatest challenges for coastal real estate owners, developers, planners and government officials is acquiring a detailed understanding of the complicated challenges sea level rise flooding poses to their communities.

A new tool introduced today by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to defending the environment, aims to deliver a clear view of the threats sea level rise poses to coastal communities in the Southeast through the use of an interactive mapping tool. “The project’s goal is to show citizens and decision-makers how the coast is changing,” the SELC said in a news release, “and how proposed infrastructure projects like highways, neighborhoods, and government or industrial facilities will fare as the water keeps rising and floods get worse.”

Visitors to The Changing Coast website will find an interactive map with overlays that enable them to visualize: 1. The flooding that will occur in their community as sea level rises; 2. Development projects that will be impacted by higher seas; 3. The locations of toxic Superfund sites that could contaminate neighborhoods and water supplies if they’re flooded by ocean water; 4. The locations of socially vulnerable populations who are most at-risk from sea level rise flooding and storm surges; 5. Wetland areas and floodplains that need to be protected from development to act as sea level rise floodwater buffer zones; and 6. Areas that are most at-risk from more powerful storm surges resulting global-warming-fueled stronger hurricanes and tropical storms.

Among the real-world examples of areas where the interactive mapping tool could assist real estate owners, government officials, planners and developers in coastal communities, the SELC offered the following:

  • “A proposed 9,000-acre housing development in Charleston could flood now with just a Category 1 hurricane. And rising seas could put parts of the development under water before the mortgages are paid off.”
  • “The roads leading to the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge in North Carolina could be flooded on sunny days in the future if sea level climbs just two feet, rendering the span useless.”
  • “A 21-million-ton pile of toxic coal ash on the banks of the Mobile River in Alabama could likewise be threatened by a Category 2 hurricane, and that threat only increases as sea levels continue to rise. A breach could spread toxic ash into the river, through the Tensaw Delta, and into Mobile Bay.”

“The goal is to help guide decisions for the future, and to plan smart strategies to protect what exists now,” said Chris DeScherer, and SELC senior attorney.

The SELC’s interactive map is a valuable source of information that real estate owners, buyers and agents in the Southeast should use when considering property in coastal communities currently experiencing sea level rise flooding or at-risk of experiencing it in the near future. It would be wonderful if this powerful tool became available in other parts of the country.

Want to Fend Off Sea Level Rise Flooding? Start with Your Natural Gas Stove

A study released last week that concluded natural gas cooking stoves in the U.S. alone are leaking the equivalent of 500,000 cars-worth of greenhouse gases every year is a powerful reminder that real estate owners must play a role in combatting global warming and sea level rise flooding.

Researchers at Stanford University said in the study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, that natural gas cooking stoves in over “40 million U.S. residences release methane — a potent greenhouse gas — through post-meter leaks and incomplete combustion.” They noted that three-quarters of the methane was released when the stoves were off. Around 80 percent of the methane leaked from loose couplings and fittings that connect gas pipes to stoves.

For years, the natural gas industry worked to convince the public that natural gas was a clean energy alternative. Using natural gas to produce energy does in fact release half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal to generate the same amount of energy. But scientists are increasingly concerned that the production and transportation of natural gas is leading to the release of dangerous amounts of methane — a more potent but shorter lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — into the atmosphere.

A report published by Global Energy Monitor, a non-profit that monitors the fossil fuel industry, concluded that projects the oil and gas industry plan to fund to increase the use of natural gas globally would lead to the release of greenhouse gases in excess of all the coal fired plant put together. Ultimately, natural gas could keep us on track toward climate change catastrophe.

So what’s a homeowner to do? Climate groups are encouraging them to replace their natural gas powered stoves, hot water heaters and other appliances with electric appliances. For those who can’t afford to replace them, Rob Jackson, a professor of earth sciences at Stanford who was one of the stove study authors, told National Public Radio said they should use a wrench to tighten the connectors between pipes and stoves. The American Gas Association told NPR this work should only be performed by licensed professionals.

The point of this story is that people who own real estate in coastal communities that’s threatened by sea level rise flooding should certainly do everything they can to, such as raising seawalls and structures, to protect their property from rising waters, which is a symptom of climate change and global warming. But they also need to do everything they can to reduce the root cause of the problem, which is clearly any human activity that leads to the burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If they have a gas stove, they need to replace it or make sure it’s properly maintained. Other steps they can take to help include ensuring that their property is weather-proofed and equipped with the most efficient appliances available today. Even switching off lights and electronics that aren’t being used can make a difference.

When It Comes to Sea Level Rise and Real Estate, What You Can and Can’t See Can Hurt You

If you’ve lived in condo buildings near the coast for twenty years as I have, you know that every so often the buildings have to be inspected as part of routine maintenance. When inspectors find areas of stucco, concrete and rebar that have deteriorated due to intrusion from salty ocean moisture and rain, crews have to remove the trouble areas or, in some instances, reseal entire buildings. This type of pro-active maintenance is the sign of a well-managed building.

After the tragic collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, last summer, that resulted in the deaths of 98 people, some structural engineers wondered if sea level rise had caused ocean water to bathe underground support structures and garage walls, contributing to the building’s collapse. No ruling has been made to date, but the building’s collapse has caused some coastal cities and towns to either implement stricter building inspection protocols or to wait and see if the state is going to pass tougher inspection rules.

Regardless of their state’s inspection rules — which vary widely — owners and buyers of coastal real estate need to take the initiative and consider the risk rising seas pose to coastal real estate. Owners can no longer passively rely on their condo boards to do what’s right for their buildings. They need to get involved and make sure that they’re up to date on inspections, their buildings are being well-maintained, repairs are made promptly when problems are found above and below ground, and reserves are being built for the day when repairs are needed.

Buyers, too, need to make sure that their pre-purchase inspections include not only an analysis of their unit, but a detailed look at the current condition of the buildings and common areas — including beaches, seawalls, steps and garages. They also need to know how well the buildings have been maintained, the commitment of the condo boards to conduct routine maintenance and build reserves to cover them, and whether or not there are repair projects that need to be implemented in the near future — especially since they can lead to hefty special assessments.

In addition to gathering this information, owners and buyers should have a sense of how ever-rising seas are expected to impact their buildings and neighborhoods during the period they hope to live in the property. Sea level rise flooding can make roads unusable and interrupt essential services. It can also lead to increased carrying costs, including condo fees, special assessments, taxes, and insurance.

Sea level rise poses risks above ground and below ground in vulnerable coastal communities. Everyone involved in coastal real estate needs to acknowledge that it’s a growing problem and do what they can to protect their lives, properties and financial futures.

When We Play Politics with Climate Change, Everyone Loses

Two years ago, the first case of Covid-19 was identified in the U.S. Since that fateful day, 860 thousand Americans have lost their lives to the virus and millions have been sickened. Unfortunately, politics played a role in many of these casualties. We can’t afford let this happen when it comes to the climate change crisis and sea level rise flooding.

At the national level, President Biden took office a year ago. One of his stated goals was to pass the Build Back Better bill, which includes $555 billion to address climate change. Included in the legislation are projects that would promote renewable energy and clean transportation to help the country dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Unfortunately, Build Back Better has been all but killed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, who has strong ties to his home state’s coal industry. Clearly his decision was made for his own political survival, not for the survival of the planet we all call home.

We’re seeing political shenanigans at the state level, too. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in projects to protect real estate and critical infrastructure from sea level rise flooding. Among the projects being funded are new sea walls, pump stations, and stormwater sewers, along with the restoration of crumbling canal banks. This is good for the low-elevation state that’s extremely at-risk from global warming-fueled rising tides and more powerful hurricanes with stronger storm surges.

Unfortunately, Gov. DeSantis undermined his responsible approach to sea level rise flooding by injecting clearly partisan political venom when it came to addressing the root cause of sea level rise flooding: the burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

During the December news conference to announce his sea level rise infrastructure improvement initiative, the governor wouldn’t use terms like sea level rise and climate change, both of which could inflame his supporters — many of whom believe they’re hoaxes or minor problems. When a reporter asked Gov. DeSantis about global warming, he said, “What I’ve found is when people start talking about things like global warming they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. And so we’re not doing any left-wing stuff.”

It’s pretty clear that the governor defines “left-wing stuff” as any actions that would reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Scientists say the only way to avoid the worst-case scenario of over eight feet of sea level rise by 2100 is to dramatically cut back on fossil fuel consumption. Gov. DeSantis’s approach to building defenses against sea level rise flooding but ignoring the root causes driving the tides ever higher, essentially dooms all of Florida’s coastal communities but especially those south of Lake Okeechobee to being potentially wiped off the map by the end of this century.

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that playing politics with scientifically established facts during a global crisis is dangerous. For example, a National Public Radio analysis found that the counties that have suffered the greatest number of Covid-related deaths were those that were the most susceptible to misinformation from hyper-partisan politicians and media outlets. Basically, despite scientific evidence that vaccination saves lives, the misinformed residents chose not to get vaccinated and they paid with their lives at a number many times higher than those who got jabbed.

It has to be noted here that Gov. DeSantis has consistently downplayed the use of proven methods of reining in Covid-19 — vaccines, boosters, masks and social distancing — and pushed treatments that can be used AFTER people become infected. An LA Times analysis published during the heat of the delta outbreak late last summer, determined that his approach came at the cost of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Taking a similar, non-scientific, politically-charged approach to climate change will have disastrous consequences for humanity today and for many generations to come. Without action to reduce the release of greenhouse gases today, we will certainly see a worsening of the droughts, wildfires, heat waves, extreme storms, and sea level rise flooding that have plagued the nation lately for decades to come.

The bottom line here is if we want to save our real estate and our way of life, we need to reach a consensus based on scientific fact, not political maneuvering, and invest in policies that will yield real results, real fast. If we don’t, we’re going to learn the hard way that when we try to gaslight the Earth, which is subject to basic laws of physics, we’re the one who will gets burned.

Sea Level Rise Increases Conflict Over Public Access to Private Beaches

When buyers purchase real estate on the beach, they often assume they own the entire stretch of sand from their door to the water’s edge, but that’s not always the case. Property owners in states like California and Florida own the beach up to the point where water laps at their beach at high tide. The public is allowed to walk in the wet sand that emerges between mean high and low tide. States like New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas, on the other hand, allow public access to all beaches.

State laws, however, aren’t always the last word when it comes to beach access. Federal law requires coastal communities to provide public access to beaches that have been restored using federal funds. Public access doesn’t end until a beach is eroded away again. (This article by Thomas Ankerson, director of the Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida College of Law, does a great job of explaining the legal issues surrounding beach access.)

As sea level rise causes more beach erosion, property owners are finding beach walkers ever closer to their back doors. In some communities, this is increasing tension that already existed between property owners who believe they have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their stretch of beach and the public who believe no one should have exclusive right to the sand.

In Florida, the state with the most beaches, battles are breaking out between some beachfront property owners and the public. A recent example is a conflict emerging in Palm Beach in South Florida. According to an article published this week by WPTV, a West Palm Beach TV station, private property owners in the tony resort community are posting poles that tell beachgoers where their private beach starts and warning them not to trespass.

Christine Stapleton, a form Palm Beach Post reporter and beach walker, posted a photo of a pole on Instagram. “Legally, these landowners do own the beach up to the mean high tide line,” she wrote in her post. “And Article X, Section 11 of the Florida Constitution clarifies that the state holds the seaward of the mean high-tide line (MHTL) in trust for the public.”

Stapleton then goes on to question the authorities’ role in allowing private property owners to unilaterally claim a section of the beach that should be open to the public. “So why does the Town of Palm Beach and Florida Department of Environmental Protection allow wealthy landowners to decide the location of the mean high tide line?” she asks. “Why does the town and DEP allow these landowners to decide when a public beach should be closed because of erosion and put up poles declaring the eroded stretch of beach private and claiming ownership?”

Palm Beach’s town manager told WPTV that the property owners need to follow state guidelines when they post poles.

As sea level rise continues, conflict between private property owners and beachgoers is bound to increase. It’s important for real estate buyers and owners to know their rights so they don’t overstep their boundaries and for the public to know where they’re allowed to tread so they don’t trespass. As Christine Stapleton told WPTV, “My feeling is let’s get together and make this work.”

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