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View Ordinances

On or near properties where the owners have scenic views, local governments often use view ordinances to protect their vistas. These ordinances prevent neighbors from blocking those views. Ordinances like these could prevent neighbors from planting trees that block the view. But those ordinances rarely protect against neighbors erecting buildings that could obstruct the views.

View ordinances are one of many ways that municipalities control land use. They are a type of zoning ordinance. Local governments have different options to control the ways their residents use land. This article will explain more about view ordinances.

What Is a View Ordinance?

A view ordinance typically allows the property owner who lost their view to sue a tree owner and force them to maintain tree trimming to restore the sight. If you are in this situation, you must ask the tree owner to restore your view. They could do so either through tree trimming or tree removal. You would then have to pay for any tree trimming or tree removal. If the owner planted the tree after the view ordinance became law or the tree owner refuses to cooperate, you do not have to pay. Be sure to check your local view ordinance for any of the following limitations:

  • Exemptions of specific species of trees
  • Trees that are a certain distance away from you may be exempt
  • Trees owned by the city may be exempt
  • Whether local ordinances interfere with any aspect of the view ordinance

Other Possibly Helpful Ordinances and Rules

If your city does not have a view ordinance, check other ordinances or subdivision rules for any relief you may qualify for. Here are some examples:

Fence height limitations: City ordinances often require that man-made fences be shorter than 6 feet high in backyards and 3 or 4 feet tall in front yards. Living barriers, such as hedges, sometimes qualify as fences under this ordinance.

Tree limitations: The rules might ban specific species of trees. Typically, these trees cause severe allergies, harm other plants or are prone to plant diseases. Many laws prohibit trees from being too close to a street, power lines, or an airport.

Zoning limitations: Zoning laws restrict the size and location of buildings. They also place restrictions on building use. Usually, for example, single-family homes are not allowed to exceed a height of 30 or 35 feet. Zoning regulations also require certain distances between a building structure and the property lines next to that building. These regulations can also restrict how much of the building structure can occupy the property lot. Typically, the structure can occupy up to 60% of the property.

Subdivision Rules: Many subdivisions have a set of covenants, conditions, and restrictions. These are CC&Rs. They regulate what residents may do with their property. There are many covenants that concern trees. There are also many about views. If a violation of a CC&R occurs, the homeowners' association (HOA) may take action. They may threaten to sue or remove privileges if the homeowner continues not to comply. Usually, the HOA will only sue for severe violations of the CC&Rs. But threatening to sue your neighbors or to talk to the HOA may be all you need to do. This threat may be all you need to get your neighbors to comply.

Remember that you should always check your local zoning laws to verify whether there are restrictions on visual obstructions. These might already provide the relief you need.

How To Handle a View Problem

Consider the following as possible solutions to a view-related problem:

  • How could your view get restored with the least amount of action? If the tree needs careful pruning, the neighbor may be willing.
  • What are the costs of tree trimming? Can you afford it? What is the lot size?
  • Is a specific part of a tree causing a problem — one limb, the treetop, or one whole side? Maybe fixing that particular part will be enough.
  • Is the tree obstructing the view of any other property owners? Perhaps those others will approach the tree owner with you. They may also be willing to split the cost of the tree trimming with you.

Before Buying Property With a View

Ask if a view ordinance protects the property. If the property owner does not know, you can ask the city planning and zoning office. Confirm with the real estate agent that the neighbors are subject to restrictions that would protect your view. If in a subdivision, ask about the HOA and CC&Rs, whether the language will protect you, and how vigilant the association is in upholding the CC&Rs.

Check zoning laws that might affect you. For example, find out if the lot owner between you and your view could build a structure high or wide enough to obstruct your view (including adding to an existing structure).

Need More Help? Contact an Attorney

This area of real estate law can be confusing. Even if you're a Realtor familiar with residential property laws and views, you might still need help understanding view ordinances. Real estate attorneys can help. State laws on residential use and commercial use real estate laws can differ. Contact a real estate lawyer today.

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