New Unpublished Appellate Decision Involving Protection of Views Within California Homeowner Associations

February 28, 2021

By: Gary Kessler

Homeowners tend to become very upset when their existing views will be obstructed by a neighbor’s proposed remodeling project. Conversely, owners who want to add a second story to their residence are just as adamant that they should have the right to upgrade their own homes as they see fit–without regard to whether their construction may adversely affect someone else’s view.

These competing interests were the basis for the conflict before the court in the recent unpublished appellate case of Davis v. Irvine Terrace Community Association, decided on January 5, 2021.

In Davis, the plaintiff homeowner objected to a neighbor’s proposed remodeling project because the increased roof height would block their view. The plaintiff’s protected view claim was based upon general language in the preamble to the Association’s CC&Rs that the declaration was intended to enhance and protect the “value, desirability, and attractiveness” of the community, along with an explicit prohibition on any new construction which was not “in harmony of external design and location in relation to surrounding structures and topography.” Interestingly, other portions of the CC&Rs included limited view protections–landscaping and fences/walls in excess of three feet could not impair the views from another lot.

Plaintiff also argued that the Association’s Architectural Guidelines limiting the maximum roof height to 14 feet above the floor slab was unenforceable since it was inconsistent with the CC&R provisions protecting the “value, desirability and attractiveness” of the community. And finally, the plaintiff relied on a prior decision of the Architectural Committee, seven years earlier, denying a similar remodeling application by a neighbor on the basis that the new construction would have adversely affected the plaintiff’s view.

The appellate court in Davis rejected all four of the plaintiff’s arguments and allowed the new construction to proceed because it found no interference with any protected view.

First, the court refused to give any weight whatsoever to the Architectural Committee’s prior decision upholding the plaintiff’s right to a view because “whatever happened previously with respect to another matter plaintiffs were involved in, that does not serve as some sort of binding precedent as if it were a Supreme Court case. What matters here is adequate notice and a reasonable chance to respond, the pinnacles of due process…Plaintiffs indisputably had both notice and an opportunity to participate in the process, which they did.

Second, the court found that there was no inconsistency between the CC&Rs and the Architectural Guidelines on the right to a view from a residence because “the only CC&R provision is a general one in the preamble that applies to the community as a whole [and] Architectural Guidelines are, just as they state, guidelines….Plaintiff’s contention that the Association ‘breached the CC&Rs by approving the Project without subjectively considering whether its height and location–and resulting obstructions of Appellant’s views–will cause disharmony with surrounding structures, including Appellant’s homes’ is not supported by any reasonable interpretation of the CC&Rs or Architectural Guidelines.”

Third, pursuant to Posey v. Leavitt (1991) 229 Cal.App.3rd 1236, 1250, a landowner does not have any right under California law to an unobstructed view over adjoining property. Likewise, neither the Association’s CC&Rs nor Architectural Guidelines require the HOA to consider the impact of proposed residential construction on a neighbor’s views. The court explained that under the applicable provisions of the Association’s governing documents, “‘‘[h]eight’ is one of the factors that must be considered, and plaintiff’s do not dispute the Association considered height…The project complied with the limit of 14 feet set forth in the Guidelines.”

Finally, the Davis court noted that since the Association’s CC&Rs explicitly protect views only as to walls, fences and landscaping”, the CC&Rs cannot be interpreted to protect other views “when such protection is included nowhere in their language.”

Homeowner association view cases can be both contentious and emotional. As the Davis case shows, before making a decision involving an alleged right to a view, the association and architectural committee must carefully evaluate each application in light of the particular language of the HOA’s governing documents, the applicable law, and a thorough evaluation of the underlying circumstances.

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