What Are ‘View Rights’

view rightRecently a number of real property owners received a shock when they discovered that the adjacent golf course planned to build a solar panel array behind their homes which would block their beautiful views of the golf course, ponds, and waterfalls.  Not only would this damage their enjoyment of their homes but it reasonably could significantly reduce the market value when they sell. Of course they were outraged…. but can they stop the golf course?  That is the legal question.

As a general rule, under California law, the answer to this question would be No. A landowner does not have any right of access to air, light, or view over adjacent property.  However, like most laws there are exceptions that may apply.  For example:

1. Easements – owners of land are generally free to enter into agreements for the use of their abutting properties. Thus, one owner could grant the other a written easement for an unobstructed view. Understandably, this most often occurs when the grantor wants to do something with their land but needs the consent of the abutting owner, grantee.  However, merely because someone has had an unobstructed view in the past does not give rise to any right to continue that view in the future, such as by claiming a prescriptive easement.

2. CC&Rs – often, particularly in the case of a subdivision or a condo complex, the development of the community requires the adoption of “covenants, conditions, and restrictions” (CC&Rs) that impose various restrictions on the use of all properties in the community. Thus the CC&Rs could provide that neighboring property owners cannot build anything that would interfere with a neighbor’s view.

3.  Laws – State and local communities may impose restrictions protecting view rights or allowing certain obstructions even where easements or CC&R’s may preclude them. California does not have any laws protecting view rights for individuals. However, while the State promotes the planting of trees to gain energy savings through shading, the “Solar Shade Control Act” imposes restrictions on the height and location of those trees if they adversely impact the effectiveness of a neighbor’s solar panels. This suggests that the State gives solar collection a priority over private view rights. Local governments could impose their own restrictions in the issuance of Building Permits.

4.  Nuisance – Generally under California law, no one may use their property in such a way as to damage the property of another. This typically applies to things from one property entering onto and damaging a neighbor’s property physically or interfering with the neighbor’s use or enjoyment.  Thus such things as tree branches and roots, water drainage, noises, odors, smoke, etc., can all constitute a nuisance giving the damaged homeowner a claim.  However, absent any view rights established by easement, CC&Rs, or law, blocking your neighbor’s view is not a nuisance.

So where does all this leave the homeowners abutting the golf course? So far, there do not appear to be any easements or CC&R restrictions to help them so they are seeking to get the local government to impose some form of view restrictions in the Building Permit for the Solar Panels. Perhaps the best and most likely scenario will be some agreement between the golf course owner and the homeowners which can modify either the location or the size of the solar panel support structure. Such an agreement could go a long way towards providing guidance for future solar installations and even restoring the formerly good relationship between the parties.  Time will tell.

For over 20 years, the attorneys of BPE Law Group, P.C. have been advising and representing property owners and real estate agents in dealing with their legal concerns and resolving world-wide. Our major  areas of practice include: Real Estate, Business, and Estate Planning.  Check us out on the Web at: www.bpelaw.com.  If you would like a consultation with us, please call our office at (916) 966-2260 or e-mail me at sjbeede@bpelaw.com.

This article is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be taken as legal advice.  Every case requires review of specific facts and history, and a formal agreement for service.  Please feel free to contact us if you need legal advice and are interested in seeing if we can help you.

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