It certainly can be frustrating to have a picturesque view blocked by a neighbor. But is it illegal?
Home buyers consider a number of factors when choosing a place to live, including the views of the surrounding landscape. Likewise, a home with an ocean view typically will be worth much more than a home across from an oil refinery. So what are your legal options if you returned to your coastal vacation home only to discover that your neighbor has built a large addition that blocks your view?
It really depends on where you live, since some cities have view ordinances. But if you don't live in such a city, you still have a couple of options.
See FindLaw's Neighbors subsection for related articles.
Cities and towns near the ocean, with views of the mountains, or that are otherwise known for exceptional views often have view ordinances. However, many of these laws do not include obstructions other than trees. A view ordinance typically allows a property owner who has lost his or her view due to an overgrown tree to sue the tree owner. It is always best to ask the tree owner first, and perhaps offer to split the cost of trimming, filing a lawsuit only as a last resort.
Enforcing a view ordinance can take a long time, however, since the courts may be backlogged and any decision may be appealed.
If your city lacks a view ordinance, other ordinances or homeowners' association rules could be invoked. These types of regulations may govern fence heights, types of trees that may be grown, and the location of buildings.
Another option is to purchase an easement from your neighbor, which is essentially a written contract granting a nonpossessory interest in another individual's land. This means the holder of the easement does not possess the parcel of land referenced in the contract, but rather has the right to use this part of the property for a stated purpose. Since drafting an easement can be confusing, you may want to contact a land use and zoning attorney for assistance.
Language in easements often points out that the holder of the contract may do "whatever is reasonably convenient or necessary in order to enjoy fully the purposes for which the easement was granted," as long as he or she does not create an unreasonable burden on the property owner.
An easement for the purpose of protecting a view would legally prevent the property owner from doing anything that would significantly alter this view.
In the absence of a view ordinance or an easement, you may be able to show that your neighbor planted the tree (or refused to trim it), built the fence, or was responsible for some other obstruction to deliberately and maliciously block your view. Such deliberately place obstructions are often called "spite fences." In this case, having your view blocked by a neighbor certainly is not legal -- but proving malicious intent can be exceedingly difficult.
Has Your Neighbor Blocked Your View? Explore Your Options With a Lawyer
We all want to be good neighbors, but if you previously had an unobstructed view and now your neighbor has built a structure blocking it, you might be more than a little perturbed. But did you know there are situations where you might have legal recourse? If you're unable to work it out with your neighbor, you may want to call a local real estate attorney.