Riparian Land and Buildings: What You Should Know


The term Riparian land has been in existence for the longest time ever but it has recently gained unprecedented traction in Kenya courtesy of the ongoing demolitions by the government. For the past one month or thereabouts, the country has witnessed with dismay demolitions of buildings which were said to be built on the riparian land. The demolitions began in upper market areas of Westlands and Kileleshwa is expected to continue until all the riparian lands have been reclaimed.

But what is it?

Environmentalists define Riparian Land as a terrain that is adjacent to rivers and streams and is subject to periodic or occasional flooding. However, for purposes of regulation enforcement, the definition must be anchored by the law and thus legally operationalized. Kenyan laws (Environmental Management and Coordination Act 2015) define riparian land as being a minimum of 6 metres and up to a maximum of 30 metres on either side of a river bank from the highest watermark. It is also entrenched in the constitution. Article 67 of the Kenyan Constitution says the riparian land is public land hence should not be allocated to anyone. Article 62, on the other hand, notes that all rivers, lakes and all land between high and low water marks our public lands.

The government agency, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), and the Nairobi Regeneration committee has embarked on an exercise of clearing water banks of any (illegal) structures. The exercise has seen many lose millions as ‘SANNY’ tumbled down the structures. Blames have been apportioned but it will take protracted legal battles to determine who is really at fault. However, to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law, here are some tips when looking for a property:

  1. Visit the property that you intend to buy in person and check to verify that the desired property is not encroaching the riparian land.
  2. While conducting due diligence on the land, establishing if there any caveats and also find out if the land is classified as riparian land.
  3. Follow the laid down procedures on acquiring an environmental license. Do not cut corners and get a license that will be invalid later when enforcement is done.
  4. Involve a competent Conveyance Lawyer to guide you through property acquisition.


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