Property owners generally do not have any legal right to light, air, or view. For example, if you buy a house you do not have a right to have a view of a pond located in your subdivision.
However, there is an exception to this principle if a certain view has been granted to you via written agreement or other rule created by your subdivision. So, if there is a written agreement or rule granting you a view of the pond, no one can obstruct that view without consequences.
Another exception to the general rule is that someone may not deliberately and maliciously block your view with a structure that has no reasonable use to the owner. An example of this is your neighbor putting a huge sign on their property with the sole purpose of maliciously disrupting your sunlight.
A view ordinance is a law that protects property owners from having their views obstructed. Some cities may have view ordinances that protect property owners from having their view obstructed by growing trees. These are usually present in areas where the property overlooks the ocean or some other desirable view.
Remember that these ordinances will not apply to buildings or other structures. Additionally, if your view was not present when the property was purchased then the ordinance will not apply.
Before you purchase property, you should check if your house or neighboring houses have a view ordinance on it. You should also become familiar with any restrictions on the ordinance’s effect. For example, many ordinances state that tees on city property will be exempt from the law.
If a tree on a neighboring property blocks your view, an ordinance will generally allow you to file a lawsuit to restore your view. Courts encourage you to first approach your neighbor to attempt mediation of the situation before litigation.
Regardless, you will usually be responsible for the cost of trimming and reducing the size of the tree. The only exception would be if the tree was planted after the law applied or if the owner refuses to cooperate.
Each city will have a unique set of laws surrounding a property owner’s right to views. But there are some general concepts that might apply, like if:
- The tree belongs to the city and is considered a fundamental part of the city;
- The tree is not close to the property owner’s home and doesn’t fully obstruct the view; and
- Any tree that is protected by the city’s environmental laws.
In these situations, it is important that you do not try to take matters into your own hands and trim the tree. Even if you do not damage the tree or completely remove it, cutting a part of the tree (like removing a branch) can be seen as a destruction of property.
While you may trim the part of trees that cross into your property line, if the tree is growing upwards and outside of your property line, you do not have the right to cut the tree without permission.
If the law does not protect your view under an ordinance, then you have to be prepared to take some other steps. Contact the owner of the tree, either the city or the private owner of the tree should be notified that you would like it trimmed or removed.
Be prepared to offer to pay for the removal or trimming of the tree, and make sure that the owner of the tree knows exactly when and how much of the tree will be removed. This will make the process smooth and easier for you to address this issue when the tree grows back.
If your view has been obstructed and you believe that you have a legal right to the view based on any of the foregoing reasons, you should contact a local real estate attorney to help you.
An attorney can inform you if you have a legal right to a certain view and help you take action to restore your view. However, remember that courts will generally want you to attempt mediation with the property owner who is obstructing your view before taking an issue like this to court.