You’ve noticed something has happened
over the last few years. Gradually, your
neighbor’s trees have grown into the view you’ve enjoyed for the last decade.
One day you realize you no longer have even the narrowest slice of the bay view
you loved to watch as the sun set slowly and the sky reddened into beauty.
Is there anything you can do about
this? If you live in one of Marin’s cities or towns with a tree and view
ordinance (Belvedere, Tiburon, Sausalito, Corte Madera) the answer is yes. In
these towns, a homeowner is entitled to restore the view he had when he came
into possession of the property, if such restoration is reasonable. In most cases you are no entitled to an
unhindered view, but to a reasonable view.
The rights of the tree owners and the health of the trees are also taken
into consideration when deciding these issues.
These ordinances also provide a
method for homeowners to address disputes involving trees, views and, in some
cases, sunlight. One such ordinance (in Sausalito) even provides a formal body
that convenes to hear and advise on such disputes.
to do about it:
Here are the common steps tree and
view ordinances prescribe:
Talk to your neighbor about the
problem. If you believe and can document that your view of a scenic vista, bay,
hills, even other trees, in the form of wooded landscape, has been impeded
unreasonably by the growth of your neighbor’s trees, all the ordnances advise
talking to the neighbor first. Try to work out a compromise. The neighbor may
not have been aware of the growth of his tress, and if you agree to pay for the
trimming, may welcome your offer. This
friendly neighbor scenario all too uncommon. Often other issues have come
between the neighbors. The tree owning neighbor is defensive about his property
rights. The neighbor with the lost view become indignant and talk is not an
Mediation. All ordinances require
that you next offer to mediate the dispute with a neutral party, one who can
listen to both sides without judgment. The hope is the two sides can come to a
reconciliation through a facilitator. It is at this juncture that things usually
break down. The cities and towns do not
keep lists of skilled mediators, so neighbors are left to their own devices. In
most cases, they simply choose to file suit.
Tree Committee hearing or
arbitration. Arbitration is another option, but if neighbors turn down
mediation, binding arbitration is unlikely.
Sausalito is the only town with the Tree Committee. An aggrieved
neighbor has the right to submit the grievance to the Tree Committee which will
hold its own hearing. The neighbor complained against has the right to be
present and to bring their own evidence or information to help the Committee
come to a recommendation.
If you choose not to attend, beware, since the
recommendation of the Tree Committee, creates a “rebuttable presumption” in
favor of the recommendation should the case land in a court of law. That means if you are sued and your neighbor
has a finding by a tree committee that your trees be trimmed, the burden of
proof is essentially on you to prove they do not unreasonably block the
neighbor’s view or that the neighbor never had a view since they owned the
Can things be improved:
Having been involved in many of these cases, I believe there
may be ways to avoid a costly lawsuit and make homeowner feel better about
finding an actual resolution to a vexing tree and view issue.
First, Cities and towns could keep lists of experienced
mediators in tree and view disputes. This way, the homeowners could find names
of those who have handled these cases before and have reached satisfactory
results. When I called some municipalities to ask if they kept such a list, all
I talked to said, no, they told people to use Google or the phone book.
Second, mediators could work with experts who would remain
neutral and offer both sides the benefit of their expertise. This way, more
homeowners would be likely to take advantage of the offer to mediate at the
outset and not wait for a judge to send them to a mediator, once positions are
hardened, lawyers have racked up expenses and experts are writing dueling
This approach not only saves time and money for both
homeowners, it has the potential of preserving the relationship between
neighbors. And unless you plan to move anytime soon, keeping an amicable
relationship with neighbors is all to the good.