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View Ordinances

In areas where property owners have scenic views, like cities and towns near the ocean, a view ordinance is often in place to protect your view from any trees on neighboring properties that might block it. These ordinances seldom include other types of obstructions like buildings.

A view ordinance typically allows the property owner who has lost their view to sue the tree owner and require them to maintain tree trimming to restore the view. If you find yourself in this situation, you must first ask the tree owner yourself to restore your view, either through tree trimming or tree removal. You would then be required to pay for any tree trimming or tree removal. If the owner planted the tree after the view ordinance was enacted or the tree owner refuses to cooperate, however, you do not have to pay a thing.

Be sure to check your local view ordinance for any of the following limitations:

  • Specific species of trees may be exempt
  • Trees that are a certain distance away from you may be exempt
  • Trees owned by the city may be exempt

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: Man-made fences are often required by city ordinance to be shorter than six feet high in back yards and three or four feet high in front yards. Sometimes living fences, such as hedges, qualify as fences under this ordinance.
  • Tree limitations: Specific species of trees may be prohibited from being grown at all. Typically, these are trees that 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 regulate the size, location, and uses of buildings. Usually, single-family homes are not allowed to exceed thirty or thirty-five feet in height. Zoning regulations also require there to be a certain distance between the building structure and the property lines. They can also put limitations on how much of the property lot can be occupied by the building structure--usually not more than 60% of the property can be taken up by building structures.
  • Subdivision Rules: Many subdivisions have a set of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) that regulate what their residents may do with their property. There are many covenants that concern trees and views. In the case of a violation, the homeowners' association (HOA)may take action by threatening to sue or take away privileges if the homeowner does not comply with the restriction. Usually, the homeowners' association will not sue except for serious violations of the CC&Rs, but threatening your neighbors to talk to the homeowners' association may be all you need to provoke them to comply if they don't respond to your initial request.

How to Handle a View Problem

Consider the following:

  • How could your view be restored with the least amount of action? If careful pruning is all that is needed, maybe the neighbor won't mind complying.
  • What are the costs of tree trimming? Can you afford it?
  • Is there a specific part of a specific tree that is causing a problem--one specific limb, the treetop, one whole side? Maybe just fixing that specific part will be sufficient and the most efficient.
  • 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.

Prior to Purchasing Property with a View

  • Ask if the property is protected by a view ordinance. 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 certain restrictions that would protect your view. If in a subdivision, inquire about the homeowner association and CC&Rs, whether the language will provide you protection and how vigilant the association is in upholding the CC&Rs.
  • Check zoning laws that might affect you. For example, find out if the owner of the lot between you and your view could build a structure high or wide enough to obstruct your view (including adding on to an already existing structure).
  • Lastly, examine which trees may obstruct your view should they grow much in the future. Introduce yourself to those tree owners and explain your concerns. If these neighbors also have views, they will probably be understanding. Ask how often or diligently they trim their trees. If the neighbors are not very cooperative when you do this, they may not be amenable to working with you in the future.

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