“You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat”: Navigating the Uncertain Waters of Lake Law

The Hon. Cale J. Bradford
Judge, Indiana Court of Appeals
Cale Addison Bradford
Attorney, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, P.C.
Alexandra Blackwell
Attorney, Katz Korin Cunningham, P.C.

In Indiana, there is only one thing that people talk about more than basketball, the latest fried offering at the Indiana State Fair, and the anarchy that is the Coke Lot at the Indianapolis 500: the weather. A common complaint is Indiana only has summer and winter. Given the last year, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. Although that complaint gets the number of seasons right, it misses the mark on the names of those seasons. For those of us who have grown up around Indiana, the only two seasons in Indiana are lake season and every other month.

There are many things to enjoy about spending time at a lake: teaching one’s kids to waterski, taking long pontoon boat rides, playing the Beach Boys’ greatest hits on repeat, floating around on a raft, and, of course, cornhole—Indiana’s true pastime. Unfortunately, no matter how fast you run to your car at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon to beat the weekend traffic or how far you travel to “your” lake, legal challenges may follow you. For some, lake season can be complicated by many issues, including, but not limited to, a neighbor extending a pier out to block your use of the lake, the neighbor’s seventeen-year-old “kid” driving his parent’s $100,000-plus boat inside your buoys, or boaters establishing a “party island” on the sandbar directly in front of your lake cottage. Rather than spend your summer hunting for muskie—the true prize of any Indiana fisherman—you spend your summer fishing for evidence in hopes of restoring the status quo around your lake.

Therefore, whether you own property on a lake, are interested in buying property, or just want to spend a day on the water, it is important to understand the unique legal issues that accompany lakes—issues no Indiana Law Review article has comprehensively addressed until now. Discussions with neighbors, friends, and fellow lake-lovers have inspired the authors of this Article to dive in and address some of the legal questions that surfaced over the years. Additionally, the authors assembled a “Buyer’s Checklist” in Section III, which sets out pertinent considerations for buying property near or on a lake. [Read entire article here]