Gov. Rick Scott recently signed House Bill 631, which updates the process local governments use to establish customary use ordinances on beaches under their jurisdiction.
"Customary use" is a common law term referring to public access to private beachfront property. Generally speaking, beachfront property owners in Florida own the "dry sand" area leading down to the mean high tide line. The land seaward of that, commonly known as the "wet sand" area, is held by the state in trust for the public.
The process known as customary use allows a local government to adopt an ordinance that allows public access to the private dry sand area of beachfront property where the use has been ancient, reasonable, without interruption and free from dispute. It's not uncommon, however, for property owners to challenge a newly adopted customary use ordinance in court.
Starting July 1, 2018, local governments will now have to go through a revised process in order to adopt a customary use ordinance. First, they need to hold a public hearing to make the public aware of the new customary use ordinance. They also need to notify every affected property owner of the proposed ordinance in writing, as well as identify the use they are seeking and show evidence of the need of that use. They will then bring the proposed ordinance forward for a judicial determination, which gives affected property owners 45 days to intervene.
The intent of the new law is to allow customary use practices to continue, but in a way that is more transparent, efficient, economical, while encouraging active dialogue between local governments and private property owners on the front end to avoid costly legal challenges.