Waterfront Properties


Purchasing a waterfront property is a unique investment; owners may spend relatively little time at their lake-side retreat, but a substantial portion of their income. Although the property is likely to increase in value over time, before purchasing a waterfront property the following should be considered:

  • Building Permits and Restrictions - If purchasing vacant property or planning to make extensive renovations to a developed property, check with the conservation authority and the municipality to ensure you can obtain a building permit and that zoning by-laws won’t restrict your dream home plans. In many cases, a building cannot be constructed within a minimum distance from the water or cover a larger proportion of the lot than an existing foundation.
  • Access – some waterfront properties are water-access only, however, most properties have some form of road access. Generally, there are three types of road access: municipal year-round roads, private year-round roads and seasonal roads. Depending on the type of road, access may be limited by season or there may be an additional cost to maintain the road.
  • Shore Road Allowances – Many waterfront properties in Ontario have a Shore Road Allowance. This is a 66-foot wide strip of land running along the shoreline of the lake. In most cases, this land still belongs to the crown. When buying waterfront property, ask whether the shoreline is “closed” or “open”; a closed road allowance does not have the risk of actually being developed as a road. In addition, if a building sits close to the water it may be encroaching on the Shore Road Allowance, and you may want to consider whether it is actually part of the property or on crown land.
  • Waste and Water – Many waterfront properties do not have municipal hook-ups for water or sewage. Drilled wells are a common source of water, but some property owners pump water from the lake. The potability test (quality) and flow test (quantity) of the water supply should be conducted prior to closing on a deal as correcting a problem can be expensive. Septic systems are a common means of sewage disposal for waterfront properties. It’s important to know what type of sewage disposal system your potential property has, and to check that proper approvals were obtained during installation. If there is any uncertainty about the age or type of septic system, a septic inspection should be arranged.
  • Environment – some newer cottage developments have “protective covenants” in place to ensure that cottagers do not harm habitats and ecosystems. In many cases, the Lake or Cottage Association will provide insight into these sorts of issues as well as provide a collective voice to cottagers in an area for environmental and planning issues.
  • Consider a Survey - Unlike urban developments, many waterfront properties have never seen a survey. An up-to-date survey will show easements, encroachments and right of ways; it may be that you need to cross another property to access the water. Moreover, the property might change on a seasonal basis as a result of influences like runoff and changing water levels. The cottage, outbuildings, driveways or boathouse may not be on the property. If there is any doubt, a survey should be obtained so it can be determined what you are buying.

Purchasing a waterfront property can be one of the most significant purchases in your life. It is not worth skipping the details in the excitement of closing the deal. Some research and a few extra costs upfront will allow for your investment to be enjoyed for generations.


Topics:  Permits, Property Access, Protective Covenants, Waste, Water, Waterfront Properties

Published In: Environmental Updates, Residential Real Estate Updates, Zoning, Planning & Land Use Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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