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Light, Air, and View

Under the common law, a land owner has no legal right to the light and air unobstructed from the adjoining land unless there is an easement.  Courts have always held that there is no private right to a view without an express easement or restrictive covenant.  Usually, a property owner cannot complain about interference with a view resulting from the lawful erection of a building or other structure on the adjoining land.

The right of a landowner to unobstructed light, air or view may be created through the granting of an easement by private parties.  It can also be through the adoption of conditions, covenants, and restrictions.  A state legislature can create the right to unobstructed light, air or view by creating a right to sunlight for a solar collector.  Similar right can be created by local governments in adopting height limits to protect views and provide for light and air.

A property owner may be prohibited by a statute from erecting a fence or structure over ten feet in height which prevents an owner or occupier of adjacent land from enjoying the light or air.

In Pacifica Homeowners’ Ass’n v. Wesley Palms Ret. Cmty., 178 Cal. App. 3d 1147 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1986), appellant homeowner’s association’s members owned single-family residences located uphill from respondent retirement community.  These single-family residences had views of the ocean, Mission Bay and the city.  The homeowners’ deeds protected the views from future obstruction.  Respondent was granted a conditional use permit in 1958 to operate a retirement hotel on a 40-acre tract of land with landscaping and five-story building height restrictions. Eucalyptus and pine trees on respondent’s property exceeded the height of its five-story building 25 years later and obstructed appellant’s views. Appellant alleged that respondent was burdened with servitude to not permit any obstruction taller than its five-story building but was denied injunctive relief. On appeal, the court found that there was no implication of a restriction on the height of trees in the conditional use permit that limited the height of the building. The focus in the permit was on the aesthetics of respondent’s property, not on protecting the appellant’s views. The court inferred that the planning commission approved the mature height of the trees since it attached no trimming or other height restrictions.  The Court affirmed the judgment and the retirement community’s demurrer to appellant homeowner’s association’s action was properly sustained, because statute or governmentally imposed conditions on development creating a right to an unobstructed view in the absence of any agreement.  The respondent neither acted in bad faith nor interfered with any right where homeowners had no natural right to an unobstructed view.

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