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View Restrictions

Many people buy homes primarily for the view. Home buyers may want a stark urban skyline, a tree-studded valley, or a secluded coastal bluff. Quite often, similar houses in the same neighborhood will have drastically different values. Prospective buyers may pay different sales prices based solely on the homes' respective views. So it's important to understand what a homeowner can and cannot do to preserve the integrity of their view.

This article centers on view restrictions and how covenants may prevent views from being restricted. In real estate law, covenants are promises contained in a contract or property deed that place limitations on realty. These kinds of deed restrictions may be disclosed by real estate professionals and title companies during a sale. Property managers and homeowners associations (HOAs) may be responsible for enforcing these restrictions. 

See FindLaw's Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions section for related articles and resources containing frequently asked questions (FAQ).

How Are Rights To View Protected?

Restrictive covenants addressing views are often found in CC&Rs (community rules). They are also less commonly found in local zoning laws. The goal of these rules is to set objective standards for what is considered a visual blight in a community. One neighbor's enhanced view might come at the expense of another homeowner. 

For example, if you build a tall structure to enjoy views of a neighboring beach, you might block your neighbor's window. Community rules and local laws can help balance these interests in as fair a way as possible.

When it comes to real estate transactions, homeowners pay top dollar for properties with a view. A listing broker or realtor will frequently advertise this on social media and open houses. They'll do walk-throughs highlighting the privilege of gazing at an appealing scene from the comfort and privacy of one's own single-family home. Potential buyers in the real estate industry will consider views to be a highly prized commodity. This, in turn, manifests in the enhanced dollar value of the real estate.

Property owners may be surprised to hear there is no natural or common law right to:

  • Light
  • Fresh air
  • A view

There are exceptions for the deliberate and malicious blocking of a neighbor's view with a structure that has no reasonable use or benefit to the one who constructed it. In general, it's best to try and resolve problems with your neighbor amicably. If the home next door is asking you to take down something you put up, they might be justified if they're relying on existing rules.

Viewing rights must therefore be granted in writing by a special law or CC&Rs. In general, the view that becomes protected by CC&Rs is the view that existed at the time that the property was purchased. This is taking into account any pending impairments to view in existence at that time, such as the construction of additional homes in the area.

Common Property View Obstructions

There are three common view obstructions that become the subject of CC&Rs:

  • Fences
  • Trees
  • Freestanding outbuildings/sheds

As each of these is associated with a homeowner's right to use and enjoy their property, CC&Rs seldom prohibit these improvements but try to restrict them instead.

A community might establish rules regarding the presence of large objects. For example, because of their size and domineering presence, recreational vehicles can affect view. If you own numerous large vehicles, you may have obligations as a homeowner to ensure that the vehicles are parked out of sight so they don't block your neighbors' views. 

All of this means you'll have important responsibilities when buying a property with view-related CC&Rs. These rules will dictate the homeowner's maintenance and limitations. You might be restricted from putting up the art studio shed or livestock house you always wanted, or may regularly need to pay for expensive tree trimming and branch removal procedures. 

Limited exceptions to compliance may be available via a variance, a permit justified by an unnecessary hardship. These may be available in certain situations, such as those warranting an emergency, medical necessity, or other temporary urgency.

Need More Help? Call a Lawyer

There are all kinds of complicated ways that view restrictions can present themselves. Whether you or your neighbors are doing renovations or touching up the front yard, conflicts can arise. In these situations, a real estate brokerage or salesperson with a real estate license may offer limited help. They might be more interested in completing a listing agreement and doing a home sale. 

For this reason, your real estate agent might not be best equipped to interpret laws and rules regarding view restrictions. If you're experiencing complications, it might be better to look up the contact information for a real estate lawyer.

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