A canal, which was the means of water access into a recreational lake, separated two lots. One lot (“West Lot”) was located west of the canal and the other lot (“East Lot”) was located east of the canal. West Lot owner and East Lot owner acquired their lots from the same grantor. East Lot owner acquired his lot first, and the common grantor described the land in the East Lot owner’s deed as including the property “Lying East of the Canal”. West Lot owner acquired her property a few months later from the common grantor, and her deed described the property conveyed as excluding the land “Lying East of the Canal”. Who owns the canal?
East Lot owner wanted to build a dock and boathouse in the canal. When East Lot owner applied for permits to build the improvements, West Lot owner objected and claimed that West Lot owner owned the entire canal because East Lot owner’s deed only included land lying east of the canal, not any portion of the canal itself, and West Lot owner’s deed included the entire canal because only the land lying east of the canal was excluded from her deed. A lawsuit ensued.
On appeal, the Court reviewed the law in Florida and other jurisdictions. The Court explained that when the legal description of land in a deed references a natural monument, the presumption, in the absence of a contrary intent of the grantor, is that the ownership extends to the centerline of the monument. The statutory definition of “natural monument” includes a canal, and thus, because there was no evidence of a contrary intent of the grantor, the Court held that East Lot owner owned the land to the centerline of the canal, even though the deed to East Lot owner did not expressly state that the boundary line of East Lot owner’s parcel extended to the centerline of the canal. See Bischoff v. Walker, 38 Fla.L.Weekly D326, February 8, 2013 (Fla. 5th DCA).