(by Keith Turner, Esq. and Emma Samyan, Loyola Law School, J.D. Candidate | Class of 2018)
An ocean, mountain, city or other view can add a lot to a property’s value. However, as “a general rule, a landowner has no natural right to air, light or an unobstructed view and the law is reluctant to imply such a right.” The plaintiffs in the recent case of Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1212 tried to use an inverse condemnation claim to sue the City of Beverly Hills for condemnation for planting thirty (30) Sequoia (Coastal) redwood trees in Roxbury Park. The trees obstructed the homeowners long enjoyed view of the Hollywood Hills, , downtown Los Angeles, “and—on a clear day—Mounty Baldy 50 miles away.” The court held that a view rights claim cannot be the basis of inverse condemnation claim.
What is inverse condemnation?
In a nutshell, “inverse condemnation” is based on the Constitutional right that provides that a property owner is entitled to compensation if the government takes its property. The California Constitution specifically provides: “Private property may be taken or damaged for public use only when just compensation has first been paid to the owner.” (Cal. Const. art. I, § 19; emphasis added.) This constitutional principal provides for two types of claims:  eminent domain (or condemnation), which is when the government sues a property owner to acquire property; and  inverse condemnation, which is when a property owner sues the government for taking or damaging its property In either case the property owner is entitled to recover just compensation, which is often measured by the fair market value of the property taken.
The Boxer case
The plaintiffs in Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills were homeowners on Spalding Drive in Beverly Hills. They sued the City of Beverly Hills for inverse condemnation, seeking damages and injunctive relief for the view obstruction as a result of coastal redwood trees that the City planted in Roxbury Park. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that the trees blocked their “unobstructed view of the hills of Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Hills, and the Los Angeles basin, including the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, downtown Los Angeles, and—on a clear day—Mounty Baldy 50 miles away.”
The trial court sustained the plaintiffs’ demurrer, without leave to amend, which the court of appeal affirmed in the reported case.
The bottom line: The court held that the plaintiffs could not sue the City for the view obstruction because “’[U]nder California law, a landowner has no right to an unobstructed view over adjoining property.’” Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1212, 1219 (citing Posey v. Leavitt (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d 1236, 1250). The general exceptions are view rights provided by local ordinances; CC&Rs or other deed obstructions; and in certain nuisance cases. Id.
The plaintiffs in Boxer “vigorously” tried to save their claims by arguing that a property owner’s loss of view can be an element of compensable damages in eminent domain cases where there was a physical taking of the claimant’s property. However, the court rejected that argument because there was no “physical invasion in a tangible manner,” which is the prerequisite for an inverse condemnation claim. The trees were planted on a neighboring property, not on any part of the plaintiffs’ property, nor did the plaintiffs complain “that the trees or debris from the trees physically intrude[d] upon the plaintiffs’ properties. (Id. at 1219). Plaintiffs are merely complaining of their obstructed view rights, which do not constitute physical damage to their properties. Thus, plaintiffs have not set any tangible physical intrusion on their properties.
Presumably, the plaintiffs-homeowners in Boxer have suffered a material loss in their value of their home from the loss of the views. The general common law rule of no view rights and the Boxer case is another reminder to home buyers (and their real estate brokers) to thoroughly research the property’s view rights if the view is an important part of the property’s value, before the sale closes.