Judge Rules for Pompano Beach Homeowners in Underwater Land Case


A Broward County District Court judge decided in favor of a group of Pompano Beach, Fla. homeowners, ruling that investor William Swaim cannot claim ownership of the underwater land behind their multimillion-dollar homes, according to an order filed earlier this month.

The ruling is part of a long-running case in a larger constellation of litigation involving Swaim, a Delray Beach resident who buys submerged parcels along South Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, sometimes suing adjacent homeowners over access to what’s long been assumed to be public waterways.

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In this case, Swaim is up against a group of homeowners near Hillsboro Inlet in Pompano Beach. In 2019, Swaim acquired several parcels of mostly submerged land that backs up against the homes along Bay Drive, including the land under one homeowner’s pool and part of a Coast Guard station.

Swaim acquired the parcels via a quitclaim deed, which was transferred to him from the director of an entity that had been dissolved in 1974. Swaim then made his ownership official through the county appraiser’s office.

In 2021, a group of homeowners banded together to dispute Swaim’s claim, which they were not initially aware of, and a judge ruled they had standing to do so. And, in this month’s ruling, Judge Jack Tuter ruled in their favor, finding that the chain of title did not support Swaim’s ownership claim, as the defunct entity had in fact relinquished its ownership of the parcels back in 1946, and therefore the quitclaim deed was invalid.

Swaim is not ready to concede. “There will be a motion for rehearing and appeal if necessary,” he wrote in an email to Commercial Observer. “The ruling is improper and is contrary to Florida law.”

Regardless of what happens next, the order does not address Swaim’s underlying thesis, which suggests that the land underneath the Intracoastal is generally private property because it is a manmade body of water. That’s why Swaim continued to acquire similar parcels, some successfully, with many others in dispute.

In his biggest win, Swaim assembled a 4-acre waterfront site in Boca Raton — the majority of which comprises open water and mangroves — which he’s marketing for $43 million. In Boynton Beach, he claimed ownership of a canal that leads to the Intracoastal, and demanded $150,000 from a condominium and several other neighbors to access their own docks which float above that canal. The condo, Wellington Arms, settled, but other neighbors are still battling it out in court.

Chava Gourarie can be reached at cgourarie@commercialobserver.com.