Updated on December 3, 2020
Do California property owners have a right to a view? If their views are blocked, can they do something about it based on these rights?
Under the common law, owners of real property had the “right to a view” of natural air and light. This common law rule was called the “Doctrine of Ancient Lights”. Black’s Law Dictionary defined the Doctrine of Ancient Lights as:
“Lights or windows in a house, which have been used in their present state, without molestation or interruption, for twenty years and upwards. To these the owner of the house has a risht by prescription or occupancy, so that they cannot be obstructed or closed by the owner of the adjoining land which they may overlook.”
Until relatively recently, the Doctrine of Ancient Lights was the preeminent law governing real property views. However, California has abandoned the Doctrine of Ancient Lights. This blog post explores the current California rule and a discusses a few exceptions.
Owners of real property in California do not have a right to a view. A landowner “has no right to light and air from adjoining land, he cannot claim damages when the adjoining landowner does something strictly on his property which shuts off the air and light previously coming over the first landowner’s property.” (Taliaferro v. Salyer (1958) 162 Cal.App.2d 685.)
However, property owners may form express agreements to protect their views. For example, real property owners may create an easement to preserve a view. (Petersen v. Friedman (1958) 162 Cal.App. 2d.) If a property owner wants to protect his view by obtaining an easement, he should be careful to include express language in the easement. California Courts regularly reject view easements when the easement is not expressly established in the agreement. (Noronha v. Stewart (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 485)
In Noronha v. Stewart, two property owners agreed to an easement that only restricted the height of a wall. (Id.) The the California Court of Appeals found that the agreement did not expressly create the right to a view and refused to create a view easement. (Id.) Accordingly, the the servient property owner had the right to grow foliage or erect other structures on the easement. (Id.) Similarly, the California Court of Appeals found that a conditional use permit establishing a five-story height limitation on a building did not create an implied limitation on growing trees. (Pacifica Homeowners’ Assn v. Welsey Palms Retirment Community (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 1147.)
Although California real property owners do not have an inherent “right to a view”, the California Legislature has established limited view rights in specific situations. For example, the Solar Shade Control Act protects sun access for owners of solar panels. Specifically, the Solar Shade Control Act restricts the heights of certain trees on solar-panel-adjacent land. (Pub. Resources Code section 25980) This statute embodies the California’s favorable treatment towards clean energy.
This blog post only discusses a few basics about a California real property owner’s “right to a view”(or lack thereof). If you are an owner, purchaser or seller of real property and you are dealing with issues involving your property’s access to air and natural light, you may want to contact an attorney. The attorneys at Schorr Law have years of experience representing real property owners, buyers and sellers on issues involving easements, zoning, and legislation affecting real property. Contact Schorr Law to see if you qualify for a free consultation today.