If a neighbors tree threatens to block the scenic view from your home, unfortunately, your options to keep the view are limited. It’s always possible for there to be CC&Rs or restrictive covenants on the land, but most of the time, unless you have a written contract, you’ve got no protection. There just are no view easements under the law. Here are answers to questions which may apply to your situation.
What are my rights if a neighbors tree is blocking my view?
Under the law these are called view easements. There is really no such thing. In most cases, aggrieved homeowners do not have any right to force a neighbor to trim or remove a view obstructing tree (see below for alternative legal options). Unless the tree is violating view ordinances, zoning laws, subdivision rules, or existing easements, homeowners have no zoning rights to light, air, or view. .
The one exception is that the neighbor cannot deliberately block your view with a structure that has no use to your neighbor.
What if my city has a view ordinance?
View ordinances have been enacted by a minority of cities that recognize scenic views as a valuable part of a home purchase. These ordinances give aggrieved homeowners the right to sue to force the neighbor restore the view by trimming or cutting down a tree.
The strength of the ordinances varies depending on the city. Some cities have adopted stringent laws that prescribe exactly what type of plants homeowners may grow, while others provide fairly large loopholes through which homeowners can plant types of trees which go over height restrictions.
You will have to research your city’s ordinance and determine the relative strength of the law as well as how your circumstances fit the law. Some ordinances require you to pay for the trimming or prescribe that you must wait until the tree is a certain distance from your home before you can sue.
If my city doesn’t have a view ordinance, what are my options to maintain the view?
The most effective strategy is not a legal one–plain neighborly charm and an open discussion about your concerns generally works best. Neighbors may be willing to plant different types of trees that may not block your view or will agree to trim the trees to keep them at a height which is less disruptive of your view.
If communicating with the neighbor doesn’t work to your satisfaction, there may be alternative legal avenues that you can pursue depending on your circumstances. The offending tree may violate other local laws unrelated to view ordinances. If your situation fits the law, your neighbor may have to trim down to this height.
If the tree is too close to power lines or streets, there are laws which require the tree to be trimmed or removed, although removal is fairly rare.
Nuisance laws are another strategy, though trees are generally not considered a nuisance. However, if a certain species of tree is harmful to other plants, property, or people (allergies), you may have a claim. Also, if there are noxious plants (such as weeds) which are blocking the view, you can force their removal.
Zoning laws that limit the height or placement of structures, fences or other features on a homeowner’s property may be of some help as well, though most zoning laws cover structures and not trees.
Can my subdivision’s Homeowners’ Association provide assistance?
Being part of a homeowners’ association (HOA) is certainly helpful in a dispute over trees and views. The HOA generally requires homeowners of the subdivision to sign a contract before the purchase of a home that details rules by which all owners must abide. Because this contract (called a Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CCR) is a legally binding document, you have legal ground to sue for enforcement if a homeowner violates the CCR.
HOAs may place pressure on owners to abide by the CCR, but if there is a dispute which arises from grey areas of the contract or a disagreement in interpretation of the agreement that requires court action, the HOA is not obligated to sue.
How can I guarantee my present scenic view for the future?
Before purchasing the property, you should 1) investigate whether the city has view ordinances, as well as their relative strength; 2) check whether the property has the right to unobstructed views over neighboring property (known as a view easement); and 3) if applicable, what rules concerning views are contained in the homeowners’ association’s CCR.
If you can already anticipate a problem with a view, discuss it with the neighbor before you purchase the land to gauge his amenability toward trimming or even removing the tree.
If the land has no current view easement from a neighboring property (a view easement is a written agreement by owners of adjacent property not to obstruct your view), inquire about the opportunity to purchase one, or the neighbor’s willingness to agree at no cost. Before you ask about obtaining a view easement, carefully consider what you’re willing to pay for the continuing benefit of an unobstructed view.
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