Not all waterfront property is created equal.
Of course you have deep waterfront, sandy shorelines, weedy bottoms, big lake views and western exposures, but when it comes to cottage ownership, you may encounter just as many variables with waterfront access. Each comes with its own unique set of advantages and drawbacks, allowing for the cottage lifestyle experience at every price point.
Private Direct Waterfront is the pinnacle of cottage ownership. As the name implies, you have direct access and exclusive ownership of your waterfront. You can access the water directly from your own land, erect a dock, boat house, fire pit, hang a hammock all on the water’s edge—so long as you meet the requirements of the local government bodies and conservation authorities.
Prices for private waterfront are premium and taxes are generally more expensive than non-waterfront properties.
Indirect Waterfrontis another popular option for cottage ownership. Through a registered easement or a deeded right-of-way, you can access the water but may be restricted to what you can do once there.
If your property has a registered easement over another property, giving you access to a waterfront dock, you have the right to the use the designated strip of land on the easement to access the water. You do not own the waterfront, but the easement on title allows you access to the water. Typically this involves property not directly on the water and does not mean you own the waterfront but allows for specific use of the waterfront (i.e. swimming, docking a boat, launching a canoe).
With deeded waterfront access, you may be allowed access to the water through a right-of-way or a designated path leading to the water. There is generally an association to manage how the waterfront is used. The access to the water is owned by the association and certain rules apply depending on the association. For example, the association rules may stipulate that you have access to a slip for docking a boat, and while your access may allow you day use to have a picnic, you may not be allowed to pitch a tent on the waterfront and spend the night.
An advantage with deeded access is that you’re not paying lakefront property taxes but you still have legal access to enjoy the waterfront. However, you may have to pay association fees, and/or be expected to help maintain the waterfront (i.e.: mow the lawn, install docks, etc).
If you own property close to waterfront but without deeded access, you may have the option to get to the water through a Public Access. The access may be owned by any number of government jurisdictions—municipal, provincial or federal. Your rights are certainly limited but this arrangement may allow you to swim, fish, launch a kayak, have a picnic or simply enjoy the view, at a fraction of the cost of traditional waterfront cottage ownership. If you choose this option, you will want to establish how far away the access location is from your property and if it offers parking or perhaps it is a short walk away.