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Where Did My View Go? Homeowners’ Rights to Easements for Air, Light, and Views.

Neighbor & Nuisance Disputes and Real Estate Law by Simon Offord, Esq.

One of the most important features for some people in deciding whether to purchase a home is it’s view. Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area are no exception. A good view can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we would assume it is something that is automatically protected, right? Unfortunately, in most cases, it is not.

The old English doctrine that gave a landowner an easement over adjoining land for the passage of light and air was repudiated long ago in California. As a general rule, California landowners do not have a right of access to air, light and view over adjoining property. However, as with most laws, there are certain exceptions that may apply.

Express Agreement

The right of a landowner to air, light, or an unobstructed view may be created by private parties through the granting of an easement. This would require the express grant from one homeowner to the other in writing. One may not obtain such a right through prescription or implication.

The right to air, light, or an unobstructed view may also be obtained through the adoption of conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CC&Rs). Thus, if you are an owner of a condominium, or more likely, a home in a subdivision, the CC&Rs may provide that neighboring homeowners may not build anything to obstruct another’s view. This can be as far reaching as requiring fences or foliage to be a certain height and not made or planted in such a way to prevent others from seeing through them.

Created By Government Entities

The right of a landowner to air, light, or an unobstructed views may be created by the legislature. The most predominant example is the Solar Shade Control Act (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 25980 et seq.), which provides limited protection to owners of solar collectors from shading caused by trees on adjacent properties.

Local governments may also adopt height limits to protect views and provide for light and air, including by way of building codes.

However, neither the Solar Shade Control Act nor violations of local building codes typically create a private nuisance cause of action entitling one neighbor to sue and obtain relief from the other (absent exceptional circumstances). Thus, the injured homeowner would have to rely on the government agency to enforce it’s own restrictions.

If you feel your rights to air, light or view have been violated or would like to establish those rights, or if you have any other questions about real estate legal issues, contact Brewer Offord & Pedersen LLP at (650) 327-2900, or on the web

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