To define a view, associations must start with their governing documents. View protection language in CC&Rs is never precise. The following two provisions are typical:
...nor shall any tree, shrub or other landscaping be planted or any structures erected that may at present or in the future obstruct the view from any other lot...
Dictionary Definition. What is a "view" and what does "unreasonably obstruct" mean? Dictionary definitions of "view" are not much help:
No tree, shrub, or other landscaping shall be planted or any structures erected that may unreasonably obstruct the view from any other lot.
Black's Law Dictionary: "the outlook or prospect from the windows of one's house."
Dictionary.com: "View is a general word, referring to whatever lies open to sight: a fine view of the surrounding country. Prospect suggests a sweeping and often distant view, as from a place of vantage: a beautiful prospect to the south."
Many CC&Rs include language giving the architectural committee or the board authority to determine when an obstruction is unreasonable. Older documents often do not--they provide no definition and no arbiter for determining what is reasonable or unreasonable. That's where courts come into play.
Case Law. Following are some cases where various view disputes were addressed:
In Lingenbrink v. Del Rayo Estates (2017 unpublished), The court ruled that nreasonable interference with view cannot be implied in CC&Rs.
In Ekstrom v. Marquesa (2008), the CC&Rs protected views by requiring all trees be trimmed to rooftop level. The board made an exception for palm trees since trimming them would kill them. When advised by legal counsel that the board's exception was contrary to the CC&Rs, the board adopted a definition of view that would avoid trimming palm trees. They defined "view" to be that which is visible from the back of the house, six feet above ground level, standing in the middle of the outside of the house looking straight ahead to infinity, with nothing to the left or right of the lot lines being considered part of the home's view. The court rejected the board's definition. It ruled that the architectural committee had discretion to determine whether any particular palm tree exceeding roof height in fact blocked a view, but the association did not have discretion to exempt trees that blocked views. The association had to trim palm trees even it killed them.
In Zabrucky v. McAdams (2005), the view protection language was unclear as to whether owners could add second stories to their houses. As part of its analysis, the court found that to significantly obstruct any owner's view of the ocean would depreciate the economic worth of their property as well as dramatically reduce their enjoyment of their home. Since much of the value of properties depended on their views of the ocean, the court broadly interpreted the CC&Rs to prohibit second stories.
In Posey v. Leavitt (1991), the court ruled that, absent CC&R provision, members have no right to air, light or an unobstructed view.
In Ezer v. Fuchsloch (1979), trees on a neighboring lot had grown such that they almost completely obstructed plaintiff's view of the ocean. The court interpreted the view language to mean that trees and shrubs had to be trimmed to rooftop height to preserve views. Defendants argued that their 25-foot tall pine tree had an independent right to exist without being trimmed. The court found the "tree rights" argument interesting but unpersuasive. The defendant was ordered to trim all trees and shrubs to rooftop level.
In Seligman v. Tucker (1970), the association's CC&Rs had a view-protection clause but no standard for determining what view was protected. The court made its own determination that the view being protected was the original view when the houses were built. It decided that a down-slope neighbor who was building a second story on his house unreasonably obstructed plaintiff's view of the San Fernando Valley. The defendant was ordered to remove his second story.
What Is A View? The lower court in Ekstrom adopted an expansive definition of a view: "a view of the ocean or neighboring golf course visible in any direction from anywhere on a homeowner's lot, inside or outside one's house." It defined obstruct "to block from sight or be in the way of (and thus even one palm frond would block some portion of a view) and the term (view) means that which is visible to the naked eye while standing, sitting or lying down anywhere in one's home, or anywhere on one's lot, looking in any direction one wishes." The appellate court did not address the the lower court's definition of view but rather dealt with palm trees and enforcement of the CC&Rs. The superior court's overly expansive definition of a view has not been adopted by other courts.
Anti-SLAPP. View covenants in CC&Rs are matters of public interest within an association. Any opinions or viewpoints expressed by members or directors are protected under California's anti-SLAPP statute. (Code Civ. Proc. §425.16(e)(4); Colyear v. Rolling Hills.)
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