Can You Own Your View?
For years you’ve cherished the view from your window, porch or balcony. For some its green rolling hills, for others the rolling ocean, others love city views. You sit and gaze for hours thinking ‘Ah, the serenity’. Your home is your castle.
But then your neighbor decides to build another level to their home – a level that would block your view. Or they plant trees that slowly grow to cover your much loved view and block the sunlight.
What rights do you have? Can you own your own view? Can you do anything to stop the building of that extra floor that will block your view? Can you have the trees trimmed or chopped down to restore your view?
The short answer is that under laws regarding planning, you as an individual can’t own your own view. There are planning laws that assist directly or indirectly to protect outlooks, but they are aimed more at community wellbeing and heritage than individual landholders such as regional height restrictions, ‘green space’ requirements and regulations governing buildings being set back from other buildings, roads, cliffs and so on.
But there is some protection from vegetation growing out of control. Generally laws protect trees, the taller the more protection. You do have the right to chop off branches that hang over your side of the fence, but you’ll have to prove a tree poses a danger to get it taken down.
In recent years we’ve seen the growth of what are called “spite hedges” – a quick growing thick row of hedge along the boundary – typically Leighton Green Cyprus which grow two metres a year and can reach 30 metres. Often they were put up to spite neighbours who had objected to a development application. There was little the law could do. There was no danger and there are no planning height restrictions on trees.
But the Trees (Dispute Between Neighbours) Act now gives the NSW Land and Environment Court the power to order a landowner to remove or prune a hedge (not solo trees) higher than 2.5 metres if it causes a severe loss of view or sunlight to a neighbour. It costs just $212 to lodge a case, but it can become costly as some people hire arborists, horticulturalists and even expert “visual impact assessors” to argue the value of a view. The Act insists people try mediation before court action, but its best to go armed knowing your legal rights and how to best put your case.