Views and Trees FAQ
- What are my rights if a neighbors tree is blocking my view?
- What if my city has a view ordinance?
- If my city doesn't have a view ordinance, what are my options to maintain the view?
- Can my subdivision's Homeowners' Association provide assistance?
- How can I guarantee my present scenic view for the future?
Does a neighbor's tree hurt your enjoyment of your property by blocking the scenic view from your home? Unfortunately, your options to keep the view are limited. The following are answers to questions that may apply to your situation.
In most cases, property owners do not have any right to force a neighbor to prune or remove a view-obstructing tree (see below for alternative legal options). Unless the tree is violating view ordinances, zoning laws, subdivision rules, or existing easements, homeowners have no zoning rights to light, air, or view.
The one exception is that the neighbor cannot deliberately block your view with a structure that has no use to your neighbor.
A few cities have enacted view ordinances that recognize scenic views as a valuable part of a home purchase. These ordinances give homeowners the right to sue to force the neighbor to restore the view by trimming or cutting down a tree.
The strength of the ordinances varies depending on the city. Some cities have adopted strict laws that list exactly what type of plants homeowners may grow. Others provide fairly large loopholes through which homeowners can plant trees that go over height restrictions.
Research your city's ordinances and determine the relative strength of the law as well as how your circumstances fit the law. Some ordinances require you to pay for the trimming. Others say that you must wait until the tree is a certain distance from your home before you can sue.
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 or will agree to trim the trees to keep them at a height that is less disruptive of your view.
Alternative Legal Measures
If communicating with your neighbor doesn't work to your satisfaction, 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. 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 that require the tree pruning or removal, although 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 species of tree is harmful to other plants, property, or people (allergies), you may have a claim. Also, if there are noxious plants (such as weeds) that are blocking the view, you can force their removal.
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, though most zoning laws cover structures and not trees.
Being part of a homeowners' association (HOA) is 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 Covenants, 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 which arises from grey areas of the contract or disagreement in the interpretation of the agreement that requires court action, the HOA is not obligated to sue.
Before purchasing the property, you should
- Investigate whether the city has view ordinances, as well as their relative strength;
- Check whether the property has the right to unobstructed views over the neighboring property (known as a view easement); and
- If applicable, see what rules concerning views are contained in the homeowners' association's CCR.
If you already expect a problem with a view, discuss it with the neighbor (tree owner) before you purchase the land to see their willingness to trimming or even removing the tree.
If the land has no current view easement from a neighboring property, inquire about the opportunity to purchase one, or the neighbor's willingness 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.
Resolving tree disputes with a neighbor can usually be best accomplished when you're clear about your rights. Knowing the law can prevent unnecessary arguments and encourage a reasonable resolution. Contact a local real estate attorney to better understand local laws or get legal advice.