In America, the right to own, occupy, and use your private property is a cornerstone of individual freedom and protected by the Constitution. If the government takes your property, it must pay just compensation—even when it is taking the property for a “good” purpose.
Rhode Island lawmakers recently ignored these constitutional limits by enacting a law that takes private land from every coastal property owner in the state and gives it to the public for beach use
The law, which was pushed by coastal access activists, passed in June 2023. It moves the boundary of the public beach inland, and onto private coastal property, along the entire state shoreline. The “mean high tide line” has historically served as the landward boundary of the public beach area in Rhode Island. The law moves the boundary to 10 feet inland of the seaweed line, giving the public an extra strip of land at the expense of private property owners. In short, the state legislature illegally grabbed a one-to-60-foot-wide ribbon of private land, granted its use by the public, and didn’t pay for it.
The law doesn’t limit what the public can do on the strip of private coastal land. Coastal landowners are stuck paying taxes on property now enjoyed by countless strangers who may be able to enter, occupy, and use their private shoreland however and whenever they wish.
This includes the membership of the Rhode Island Association of Coastal Taxpayers, a group of Rhode Island citizens who own coastal residential property in the state’s South Kingston and Westerly region. The new law shrank the amount of their own private land that they can actually use. Nor can they turn away random people from their land; trespassing is no longer trespassing.
These owners want to keep their property—and they have a constitutional right to keep their property, unless and until the government pays the fair market value of that coastal land. And because the government failed this critical duty, it can’t relocate public beach area, not even by making a new law.
The State of Rhode Island is declaring that what you thought was yours now belongs to everyone. If the government can give the public private land simply by passing a law that changes property lines, no private property is safe. So now, the shoreline owners’ group is fighting back.
Represented by PLF free of charge, the taxpayer group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Rhode Island law that illegally converts their private beachfront property into public property.