Natural boundaries can expand with time

It’s a slow process that can take a number of years

Is your property expanding?

A neighbour complained to The NEWS about a “land grab” in San Pareil, where some residents are trying to take extra waterfront property, but it turns out they already own it.

“The property owner owns lawfully accreted land and a property owner can lose land,” summed up Jeff Beddoes, senior deputy surveyor general with the Surveyor General Division of the Land Title and Survey Authority of B.C. (LTSA).

He said according to the B.C. Land Act, and points based on English common law, property owners on any waterway own up to the “natural boundary” of their property, which can change over time.

The law states that any land lost or gained slowly over time — called accretion, as distinct from things like storms or humans dumping a load of gravel — automatically belongs to the property owner.

The natural boundary is not the high tide mark as many believe, he said. It goes by the “natural boundary,” which is defined as the historic high water mark, as shown by the soil and vegetation characteristics, the area above any sporadic or seasonal vegetation and beach-like soil.

“That point where vegetation can grow year to year, it dies and rots and you get natural soils,” he said.

But while it legally belongs to them, they have to hire a surveyor to formally show the changes and apply through the LTSA if they want to “put it within their certificate of title,” Beddoes said.

This would help them defend their ownership if it ever came up, he said, and would be required before any formal or structural changes that might impact things like zoning or setback changes for example.

Regional District of Nanaimo Manager of Current Planning Jeremy Holm agreed that while the RDN doesn’t have anything to do with determining accretion, there can be legal impacts.

“Some bylaws and setbacks apply to the natural boundary,” he said, “which is not static. The way we work we try to hold some of these areas as static… when you purchase property that’s your assumption, but that’s not reality. These are dynamic areas that are subject to all kinds of geomorphological processes.”

He pointed out property owners don’t even have to be aware of the changes and that the RDN itself sometimes has surveyors re-establish natural boundaries to measure from, including things like required setbacks.

Beddoes described natural accretion as “a slow process that takes a number of years, not months to occur,” explaining that under common law, owning waterfront “was a very important thing for trade and commerce, access and what not… once a person had waterfront, ie. a natural boundary, they’d always have it.”

He also clarified that lawful accretion also must grow out from the land and wouldn’t include a separate sandbar that grew in to connect to the land.

And while you can’t dump a load of gravel to expand your beachfront, lawful accretion “can be caused by some human intervention… as long as it’s not the person that owns the property trying to collect accretion,” he said, giving the example of a neighbour’s boat dock impacting your property over time.

For more on the process visit www.ltsa.ca/cms/natural-boundaries-erosion-and-accretion.

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