Dock Laws in Michigan: Dealing with Excessive Dock Length


Common law in Michigan offers riparian property owners the right to install a dock or boat hoist on their bottomlands adjacent to their waterfront property. But when it comes to the length of said dock, however, common law does not cite a specific length limit.

So, is there anything you can do about that excessively long—perhaps dangerous—boat dock on the lake your home is located on?

Yes, you have options available, but you will likely need the guidance of a skilled riparian rights attorney to remedy a solution.

Michigan Laws on Docks in Lakes 

No dock or floating raft can impede the navigation of an open waterway, as outlined under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. If the Michigan Department of Natural Resources deems a dock too long and argues it is a hazard to navigation, the owner of that dock can be forced to remove, relocate or truncate the dock at their own expense.

Furthermore, if the DNR needs to remove the dock, the cost of that operation can be billed to the property owner. If it goes unpaid, it could show up as a lien on their property.

The catch with section MCL 324.80163 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, though, is determining if a dock is actually a hazard to navigation due to its length.

Realizing this is a subjective issue, local municipalities typically pass their own ordinances that limit both the length and width of a dock, but that is not always the case. Check with your local municipality to see if such an ordinance exists.

If there isn’t an ordinance, you can file a complaint with your local DNR office.

When there 1) is not a local regulation and 2) the DNR does not act on your argument that the long dock impedes navigation, it is time to contact an attorney well-versed in riparian rights.

Use Common Law Riparian Rights

If you have a dock-length issue with a fellow lakefront property owner but the local ordinance is lacking in specifics and/or the DNR does not decide in your favor, you should try and come up with a solution with your neighbor outside of court. This is not always easy. A professional attorney can help you with any negotiation or strategy in dealing with a neighbor.

If you can’t remedy the issue, you can file a lawsuit as a riparian owner under common law claiming an unreasonable interference with your reasonable use of the water. You will definitely want an experienced attorney for this process.

Hire a Riparian Rights Lawyer

If you can’t finalize a solution, it is time to hire a skilled riparian rights attorney to handle your case. With more than 30 years of experience in riparian rights, Dingeman & Dancer, PLC, can help guide you toward a solution. Contact us today.