Under English common law, views were well protected: Under the doctrine of “ancient lights,” a landowner could acquire an easement over adjoining property for the passage of light and air.
However, California Supreme Court has rejected this doctrine. Western Granite & Marble Co. v Knickerbocker (1894) 103 C 111. The court in Boxer v City of Beverly Hills (2016) 246 CA4th 1212 recently reiterated the rule that the landowner has no easement over adjoining lands for light and air. In that case, plaintiff’s home was next to a public park in which the city planted redwood trees that grew tall and eventually blocked plaintiff’s view. Plaintiff filed an action for inverse condemnation claiming damages for loss of the view. The court found the interference with view to be an “intangible intrusion” potentially compensable in an inverse condemnation action, but the “intrusion,” or interference with view, placed no “burden on the property that is direct [and] substantial.” 246 CA4th at 1218. Citing the rule that a landowner has no right to a view over adjacent property, the court held that mere impairment of a view doesn’t constitute a taking or damaging of property.
California courts’ rejection of an implied or inherent right to a view or to light and air across another’s property is based on a public policy that favors using real property over keeping it vacant for the sake of another’s view. Venuto v Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1971) 22 CA3d 116, 127.
But, a property owner in California may still have view protection rights:
- If the property is located in a municipality or area that provides them by local law or ordinance, e.g., in a coastal area subject to the California Coastal Commission or in a city that has specific view protection laws;
- If the property is subject to conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CC&Rs) or other types of servitudes that provide view rights, e.g., by limiting the height or number of stories a house or other structure can have; or
- Under various other legal theories that depend on the specific facts of the matter, e.g., by easement created by deed reservation, lease, or special laws such as building codes or setback requirements.
A good view can potentially add substantial value to property, making it more likely that disputes over view rights end up in court. Counsel practicing in this area should review the many published appellate opinions discussing these issues and have a good grasp of the basic law of easements. You can get up to speed on issues involving light, air, views, and open space in CEB’s Neighbor Disputes: Law and Litigation, chap 13. Easements are discussed in chapters 1-2, and solar access rights are discussed in chapter 4.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find interesting:
- Spiteful Neighbors
- Don’t Lose Out on Your Fees in a Neighbor Dispute Case
- Backsies! When Can You Rescind a Real Property Purchase Agreement?
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