Obstructed View Ruling a Good Lesson for Orange County Homebuyers

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The rigid nature of California’s laws on an obstructed view was recently illustrated in a case heard by the California Court of Appeal. The case is Boxer vs. City of Beverly Hills.

orange-county-lawyer-hammerThe City of Beverly Hills planted some redwood trees in a park near the Boxers’ home. At first, the trees were not a problem for the Boxers, but as they began to grow, and redwoods can grow quite tall, the Boxers began to lose their stunning views of the Hollywood Hills and Los Angeles Basin. They had enjoyed these views for some time. But the problem for the Boxers was even worse than the loss of the daily enjoyment of the view. The Boxers own a very nice property in Beverly Hills. The view significantly enhanced the value of their property, as is often the case with truly impressive views. This was not, therefore, a trivial concern for the Boxers, but a serious financial problem.

The Boxers did not rush off to court right away due to the obstructed view. Beginning in 2005, they sought redress with the City, through correspondence and negotiation. They were continuously ignored, however, so they eventually had no choice but to pursue their remedies in the Los Angeles Superior Court.

The theory pursued by the Boxers was that the law of “inverse condemnation” should apply to the City’s activity with the obstructed view.  Inverse condemnation is a legal term for the situation wherein the government takes private property without paying appropriate compensation. Here, the Boxers argued that the growth of the redwoods undermined the value of their property through the obstructed view, causing monetary damages. The Boxers further argued that the loss they were suffering from the City’s refusal to cut the trees was massive, whereas all the City would lose if it cut the trees was the expense of the tree cutters.

The Boxers, unfortunately, would not find any help in the courts, at any level. The Superior Court threw out their suit, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision. California’s doctrines on obstructed views are rigid. In the state of California, as a matter of law, there is no remedy for the alleged impairment of view as it pertains to private property.

The Court clarified that obstructed views, in and of themselves, can never be the basis for an inverse condemnation case. Other factors may provide sufficient grounds for a lawsuit, when combined with the loss of a view. For example, noxious fumes emanating from a source related to government activity, or physical encroachment and damage, together with the loss of a view, may enable court action. But again, the loss of the view itself is never sufficient.

One remedy a homeowner may pursue to avoid future obstruction, at least by private landowners and neighbors, is to enter covenants (recordable agreements that run with the land) or easements, whereby the neighbor agrees that no building will go forward on his or her property that will undermine a view. To make the covenant enforceable, many landowners pay consideration in some amount, to avoid a claim down the road that the agreement “lacked consideration.”

California offers its residents some truly breathtaking views, but it is important for potential homeowners to note that in the state of California, there is no firm “right” to a view. Homebuyers, particularly looking at homes on the higher end of values, should keep this in mind when inspecting homes for sale. As the Boxers ultimately learned, a home with a breathtaking view can lose one if its most valuable assets, and the result can be a significant loss in value.

If you are threatened with the loss of a view or have been notified that court action may be sought against you for your own building activity, contact us through hammers-law.com.

Stephen Hammers

Stephen Hammers

Stephen Hammers is a California attorney with over 24 years experience in the trial of business and real estate matters. He has a 100% success rate in jury trials as lead counsel, and tries cases in all Courts of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. He is a writer and lecturer in matters involving business fraud, real estate and commercial lease litigation.
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Stephen Hammers
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