Q: My HOA requires trees be situated so “normal enjoyment of view by other lot owners shall be required.” It also says the HOA controls tree trimming that “is necessary to prevent the obstruction of the view of lot owners.” Is this standard language or has it been prohibited by statute in any way? — P.D., San Diego
Q: We have lived in the same neighborhood for 25 years. One of the main reasons we decided to purchase this property was the incredible view. The association used to trim the trees annually, then moved the trimming to every two years, and in recent years has said that an arborist recommends the trees not be topped as it isn’t good for the trees. So, instead of mountain and hill views, all I can see are trees. The covenants say that vegetation on the common area is to be cut at such intervals so that the view of any owner is not unreasonably obstructed. — R.H., Lake Forest
Q: We have lived in our home for over 25 years, and initially we had a sprawling view. Many years later our neighbor’s tree is enormous and never maintained. I have been bringing this to the HOA’s attention for years. Now there is a wall of trees encapsulating our property. — E.O., Northridge
A: Under longstanding California real estate law, land ownership does automatically include view rights. However, as a private covenant between owners of the properties subject to those covenants, CC&Rs can include view protection. Check the CC&Rs and architectural rules to see if they include language about views. If the governing documents contain no view protection, then there is no requirement that the HOA or your neighbor trim the trees to preserve neighbors’ view.
Sometimes the governing documents create confusion on this subject. Some HOA CC&Rs do not protect views, but then the architectural rules state that the architectural committee should consider view impact as one of many factors in evaluating applications to alter landscaping or structures. This can be confusing to homeowners – are views protected by the HOA or not?
If the CC&Rs contain a view protection or height limit regarding trees, the board is duty-bound to comply with that requirement and cannot rely on an expert to provide justification as to why the HOA need not follow its governing documents. This is the lesson from the 2008 appellate court decision in Ekstrom v. Marquesa at Monarch Beach HOA.
The association CC&Rs contained a tree height limit that was exceeded by many palm trees within the association, and the board decided it was illogical to apply the limit to palm trees since topping them would kill them. The association argued that the Business Judgment Rule allowed the board to exempt palm trees from the CC&Rs height limit. However, the appellate court ruled that the board did not have the discretion to violate the plain meaning of the CC&Rs and upheld the trial court’s decision against the HOA.
Issues about view are common, and consultation with association legal counsel can provide the board and architectural committee a clear understanding of the governing documents on the subject.
Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com.
Source: Orange County Register