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Can My Neighbor Legally Block My View?

Having a picturesque view blocked by a neighbor can be frustrating. But is it illegal? Home buyers consider many factors when choosing a place to live. These factors often include views of the surrounding landscape. Typically, a home with an ocean view will be worth much more than a home across from an oil refinery.

What Are Your Legal Options?

What are your legal options if you've 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. Height restrictions may vary by region, for example. Also, there could be confusion about boundary lines. Depending on where you live, disputes related to this and blocking views can be very different. If you're struggling with the neighbor on an adjoining property, check the laws of your city and state. Speak with an attorney.

How property lines are determined can be confusing. The legal issues arising from them can be hard to navigate. Zoning laws can be hard to interpret on your own. This article briefly overviews three actions you can take if you're in this situation.

Review Your Local Ordinances

Places where buildings have exceptional views tend to have view ordinances. But many of these laws don't include obstructions other than trees. Typically, a view ordinance allows a property owner who has lost their view to sue the tree owner. Often, these ordinances allow a person to do so over an overgrown tree. Under these circumstances, it's always best to ask the tree owner first to remove the tree or trim it. It can be best sometimes to offer to split the cost of trimming. Filing a lawsuit is usually only a good idea as a last resort.

Enforcing a view ordinance can take a long time. This can happen since the courts may be backlogged, and any decision may be appealed. If your city lacks a view ordinance, other ordinances or homeowners' association (HOA) rules could be used. These types of regulations may govern the following:

  • Fence heights
  • The types of trees that may be grown
  • The location of buildings

Purchase an Easement From Your Neighbor

Another option is to purchase an easement from your neighbor. This is essentially a written contract granting a nonpossessory interest in another individual's land. This means the easement holder doesn't possess the parcel of land referenced in the contract. Instead, the holder has the right to use this part of the property for a stated purpose.

Drafting an easement can be confusing. So, you may want to contact a land use and zoning attorney for assistance. Language in easements often points out that the contract holder may do "whatever is reasonably convenient or necessary in order to enjoy fully the purposes for which the easement was granted," as long as they don't 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.

Deliberate Malicious Actions

In the absence of a view ordinance or an easement, you may be able to show that your neighbor:

  1. Planted the tree (or refused to trim it);
  2. Built the fence; or
  3. Was responsible for some other obstruction to deliberately and maliciously block your view

Such deliberately placed 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 very difficult.

What To Expect If You File a Lawsuit

Typically, your case will be heard in a small claims court. A small claims court hears lawsuits when the amount sought in damages is low. This amount can vary by state. So, it's important to check your state's laws.

If you're having neighbor disputes, it's likely you won't be able to recover much. This is particularly the case when it comes to blocking scenic views. If it's merely your neighbor's tree that you want trimmed or removed, you might not be able to recover more than a few thousand dollars. Or you might only be able to get a court to force your neighbor to remedy the situation. Local laws can vary. So, it's best to check your local laws. It's often best to speak with an attorney.

Has Your Neighbor Blocked Your View? Explore Your Options With a Lawyer

We all want to be good neighbors. 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. In some situations, you may have options for legal recourse. You may have a legal right to sue your neighbor. Under those circumstances, it's best to get legal advice from a licensed real estate attorney. Under nuisance laws, you might be able to recover damages. Or a court might impose an enjoinder on your neighbor. This might force your neighbor to remedy the problem.

If you can't work it out with your neighbor, you may want to call a local real estate attorney. Under private nuisance laws or public ones, you could have legal recourse. But it could simply be best to get help from a lawyer. They can help you resolve your legal issues.

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