A new Florida law could make it harder for local governments to keep certain parts of the beach open to the public.
In Florida, public beach access has long been based on a doctrine called “customary use,” which asserts that property owners can’t stop people from using beaches that were historically open to the public—even if they're now private.
But the new Possession of Real Property law, which will take effect July 1, limits what governments can do to enforce those customary use rights. It was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last month.
Under the new law, towns that want to re-establish public access to dry sandy areas in beaches that are privately owned will need to make a case in court, in front of a judge.
South of Deerfield Beach, Hillsboro Beach is a quiet one-mile-long stretch with one public access point to the beach. Even though sand below the high-tide line is technically public, some residents say it doesn’t feel that way.
Terry Ketterer takes her morning walks nearby, but she always turns around when she arrives to the border of Hillsboro Beach.
“It just seems like it’s all private, and huge houses,” Ketterer said.
Critics of the new law say it could make beaches like Hillsboro feel even more exclusive, by further limiting access.
Florida Senator Kathleen Passidomo, from Naples, sponsored the bill. She says it doesn’t change public access to the beach but establishes new ways for governments to grant access to certain beach areas, especially those above the water line.
“What the law does is to create a process by which local governments can establish customary use of dry sandy beach areas that may be privately owned,” Passidomo said.
Hillsboro Beach officials say there are no plans to change the way the public has been using the beach.