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:
Davis v. Irvine Terrace Community Assn. (2021 unpublished). Plaintiffs sued for allowing a neighbor to rebuild or modify their existing home in a manner that blocked plaintiffs’ views. Plaintiffs failed to establish that the Association’s CC&Rs guaranteed a right to an unimpaired view. The recitals state the purpose of the CC&Rs is to enhance and protect the value, desirability and attractiveness of the tracts. The section on architectural control states that alterations to lots must be in harmony with surrounding structures. A provision on landscaping gives the ARC the right to require any member to remove, trim, top, or prone any tree or shrub which in the opinion of the ARC unduly impedes or detracts from the view of any lot. The court determined the preamble protected the community as a whole, not individual owners. It noted that architectural guidelines are "guidelines" and by their nature have a subjective component to them and ARCs have discretion to decide what designs are in harmony with the community. The court ruled that, under both California law and the governing documents, plaintiffs did not have a valid claim regarding their views or the criteria the Association used to approve the project.
Maravich v. Dover Shores Community Association (2020 unpublished). Homeowners brought suit against their HOA contending the HOA failed in its duty to prevent other owners from obstructing the view from their home. The court reviewed relevant provisions of the CC&Rs and Rules and determined the HOA discretion to allow tall trees, even if they impede an owner’s view. The issue was whether a rule adopted regarding trees and views was inconsistent with the CC&R provision on the same subject. The Appellate Court noted that while the rule was different than the CC&R provision, “merely being different does not render them inconsistent.” The CC&R provision confers discretion on the Landscape Committee to require trimming and removal of tall trees or not. The court determined the rule was a policy statement with regard to the discretion about the tall trees.
Lingenbrink v. Del Rayo Estates (2017 unpublished). The court ruled that unreasonable interference with view cannot be implied in CC&Rs.
Ekstrom v. Marquesa (2008). 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.
Zabrucky v. McAdams (2005). 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.
Posey v. Leavitt (1991). The court ruled that, absent CC&R provision, members have no right to air, light or an unobstructed view.
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.
Seligman v. Tucker (1970). 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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