Views FAQ

You may not be able to protect your view. These frequently asked questions explain the law. What's Below:

If a neighbor's addition or growing tree blocks my view, what rights do I have?

Unfortunately, you have no right to light, air or view, unless it has been granted in writing by a law or subdivision rule. The exception to this general rule is that someone may not deliberately and maliciously block another's view with a structure that has no reasonable use to the owner.

This rule encourages building and expansion, but the consequences can be harsh. If a view becomes blocked, the law will help only if:

  • a local law protects views
  • the obstruction violates private subdivision rules, or
  • the obstruction violates some other specific law.

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How can a view ordinance help?

A few cities that overlook the ocean or other desirable vistas have adopted view ordinances. These laws protect a property owner from having his view (usually, the view that he had when he bought the property) obstructed by growing trees. They don't cover buildings or other structures that block views.

The ordinances allow someone who has lost a view to sue the tree owner for a court order requiring him to restore the view. A neighbor who wants to sue must first approach the tree owner and request that the tree be cut back. The complaining person usually bears the cost of trimming or topping, unless the tree was planted after the law became effective, or the owner refuses to cooperate.

Some view ordinances contain extensive limitations that take most of the teeth out of them. Some examples:

  • Certain species of trees may be exempt, especially if they grew naturally.
  • A neighbor may be allowed to complain only if the tree is within a certain distance from his or her property.
  • Trees on city property may be exempt.
Cities Without View Ordinances

If, like most cities, your city doesn't have a view ordinance, you might find help from other local laws. Here are some laws that may help restore your view:

Fence Height Limits. If a fence is blocking your view, it may be in violation of a local law. Commonly, local laws limit artificial (constructed) fences in back yards to six feet high and in front yards to three or four feet. Height restrictions may also apply to natural fences, such as hedges.

Tree Laws. Certain species of trees may be prohibited -- for example, trees that cause allergies or tend to harm other plants. Laws may also forbid trees that are too close to a street (especially an intersection), to power lines or even to an airport.

Zoning Laws. Local zoning regulations control the size, location and uses of buildings. In a single-family area, buildings are usually limited to 30 or 35 feet. Zoning laws also usually require a certain setback, or distance between a structure and the boundary lines. They also limit how much of a lot can be occupied by a structure. For instance, many suburban cities limit a dwelling to 40% to 60% of the property.

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I live in a subdivision with a homeowners' association. Will that help me in a view dispute?

Often, residents of subdivisions and planned unit developments are subject to a detailed set of rules called Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). They regulate most matters that could concern a neighbor, including views. For example, a rule may state that trees can't obstruct the view from another lot, or simply limit tree height to 15 feet. If someone violates the restrictions, the homeowners' association may apply pressure (for example, removing the privilege of using a swimming pool) or even sue. A lawsuit is costly and time-consuming, however, and the association may not want to sue except for serious violations of the rules.

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I want to buy a house with a great view. Is there anything I can do to make sure I won't ever lose the view -- and much of my investment?

First, ask the property owner or the city planning and zoning office if the property is protected by a view ordinance. Then check with the real estate agent to see if neighbors are subject to restrictions that would protect your view. Also, if the property is in a planned unit development, find out whether a homeowners' association actively enforces the restrictions.

Check local zoning laws for any property that might affect you. Could the neighbor down the hill add a second-story addition?

Finally, look very closely from the property to see which trees might later obstruct your view. Then go introduce yourself to their owners and explain your concerns. A neighbor who also has a view will probably understand your concern. If someone is unfriendly and uncooperative, you stand warned.

How to Approach a View Problem

Before you approach the owner of a tree that has grown to block your view, answer these questions:

  • Does the tree affect the view of other neighbors? If it does, get them to approach the tree owner with you. Trimming costs may be divided among you.
  • Which part of the tree is causing view problems for you -- one limb, the top, one side of it?
  • What is the least destructive action that could be taken to restore your view? Maybe the owner will agree to a limited and careful pruning.
  • How much will the trimming cost? Be ready to pay for it. Remember that every day you wait and grumble is a day for the trees to grow and for the job to become more expensive.

The loss of your personal enjoyment is probably worth more than the trimming cost, not to mention the devaluation of your property (which can be thousands of dollars).

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