View Protection At California Condo and Homeowner Associations: It’s Complicated

By David Swedelson, Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney; Senior Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb, Community Association Attorneys

view.pngMany owners buy units, lots or homes at community associations that have views and are later shocked to learn that the view they cherish, the view that caused them to buy that home, is not guaranteed. The question that has been posed is whether or not property owners are entitled to an unobstructed view. With some exceptions, the answer in California is “no.” The California Supreme Court spoke on this subject in the late 19th century case of Kennedy v. Burnap and established the doctrine in California that one’s ownership of land does not imply a right to force owners of neighboring land to refrain from obstructing the view from the land or the light and air reaching the land. This law has not changed all that much since that case was decided in 1898.

Covenants, conditions and restrictions (“CC&Rs”) governing the use of land in common interest developments provide some protection for views. California law allows a community association’s CC&Rs to restrict view obstructions within the development as long as the restriction is reasonable. Restrictions on improvements or landscaping that obstructs a neighboring owner’s view do exist in CC&Rs in some, but not all, California condominium and homeowner associations. And they have been the subject of much litigation. And they have been successfully enforced. Some associations’ CC&Rs do not guarantee a view but only make an owner’s view a consideration when the association is considering another owner’s request to make a modification that would impact another owner’s view.

In the 1986 case of Pacifica Homeowners Association vs Wesley Palms Retirement Community, the California Court of Appeal concluded that “[a]s a general rule, a land owner has no natural right to air, light or an unobstructed view and the law is reluctant to imply such a right.” However, “such a right may be created by private parties through the granting of an easement or through the adoption of conditions, covenants and restrictions…”

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