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Views and Trees FAQ

You might be asking yourself, "What are my rights if a neighbor's tree is blocking my view?" In that case, you should also be asking yourself about whether your city has view ordinances.

If your city has view ordinances in place, you may have more rights and options available to you. City ordinances that stipulate views can bode in your favor. These zoning regulations recognize the importance of scenic views in residential areas. They aim to strike a balance between property rights and the preservation of these views.

Below are some commonly asked questions about viewing and zoning ordinances.

What is a view ordinance?

As part of view ordinances or certain zoning ordinances, code enforcement may resolve your problem. City codes may require that view obstructions be remedied on grounds of how they might even interfere with certain public works programs or economic development programs. Community development programs might also require that views not be obstructed. They might do so as part of encouraging greater occupancy in the community.

In areas covered by view ordinances, you have the right to bring the matter to the city council or planning commission. These entities can remedy obstructions, as they handle city planning. These bodies oversee municipal code and land use policies. They can help resolve disputes related to view obstructions. They often hold public hearings where you can present your case.

If you reside in a single-family dwelling unit, your property owner's association or homeowners' association might also be involved in these matters. They are typically responsible for enforcing covenants and easements that affect the use and appearance of properties within the community. They are able to remedy encroachments.

The zoning code of your city will specify any height limitations for structures, including trees. You can check with the city clerk or city attorney to understand the zoning laws applicable to your area.

If your city doesn't have a view ordinance, what are your options to maintain the view? This can be one of the more significant concerns for any owner of residential property. It can even be a concern amongst those who own any real property.

The most effective strategy is not a legal one. Plain neighborly charm and an open discussion about your concerns generally work best. Neighbors may be willing to plant different types of trees that may not block your view. They might also agree to trim the trees to keep them at a height that is less disruptive to your view. 

If these neighbors have created an obstacle in an open space, otherwise providing you with a view, you may have recourse in many ways. In any municipality, view ordinances can help you remedy an issue with an obstruction to your view. This information is also easily accessible, as it is in the public record. After all, all laws can be reviewed online.

Other Legal Measures

If communicating with your neighbor doesn't work, there may be alternative legal avenues that you can pursue depending on your circumstances. The offending tree may violate other local government laws unrelated to view ordinances or could be causing danger to the community. In this case, the obstruction could be understood as a danger to public safety. 

You might be able to resolve the obstruction on grounds related to how the obstruction is causing a risk to public safety. If your situation fits the law, your neighbor may have to trim down to a certain height.

If the tree is too close to power lines or streets, there are laws and utility easements that require the tree pruning or removal. Total tree removal is fairly rare.

Private Nuisance Laws

Private nuisance laws are another strategy, though trees are generally not considered a nuisance. However, if a certain invasive species of tree and is harmful to other plants, property, or people (allergies), you may have a claim. 

If there are noxious plants such as weeds that are blocking the view, you can force their removal. These can be an important consideration in urban planning. They can be an important part of any redevelopment project.

Zoning Laws and Building Codes

Zoning laws that limit the height or placement of structures, fences, or other features on a homeowner's property may be of some help as well. However, most zoning laws cover structures and not trees. 

Building codes might also require that an obstruction be remedied, in ways similar to how zoning laws might require this. Sometimes the person causing the obstruction might be in violation of their building permit by creating an obstruction. In that case, they will need to resolve the obstruction in order to maintain their building permit.

Can my subdivision's HOA provide assistance?

Being part of a homeowners' association (HOA) may be helpful in a dispute over trees and views. The HOA generally requires homeowners of the subdivision to sign a contract before the purchase of a home that details rules by which all owners must abide. This contract, called a Covenant, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CCR, is a legally binding document. Thus, you can sue if a homeowner violates the CCR.

HOAs may place pressure on owners to abide by the CCR, but if there is a neighbor dispute that arises from grey areas of the contract, the HOA is not obligated to sue. This is also true of neighbor disagreements stemming from conflict over the interpretation of the agreement that requires court action.

How can I guarantee my present scenic view for the future?

Before purchasing a property, you should:

  • Investigate whether the city has obstruction-of-view ordinances
  • If so, review their relative strength
  • Check whether the property has the right to unobstructed views over the neighboring property, known as a view easement
  • If applicable, see what rules concerning views are contained in the HOA's CCR

If you already expect a problem with a view, try discussing it with the neighbor before you purchase the land to see their willingness to trim or even remove the tree.

If the land has no current view easement from a neighboring property, inquire about the opportunity to purchase one. Determine whether the neighbor is willing to agree to one. A view easement is a written agreement by owners of adjacent property not to obstruct your view. Before you ask about obtaining a view easement, carefully consider what you're willing to pay for the continuing benefit of an unobstructed view.

Get Legal Help To Answer Your Questions About Trees Blocking Your Views

Resolving tree disputes with a neighbor can usually be best accomplished. This is particularly true when you're clear about your rights. Knowing the law can prevent unnecessary arguments and also encourage a reasonable resolution.

Contact a local real estate attorney to better understand local laws or get legal advice. It's important to get the help you need. It's not always necessary that you need to tolerate losing a view in your front yard. You may be able to remedy the situation.

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