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How common are disputes about obstructed views?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2023 | Real Estate Law |

Massachusetts has many waterfront properties and other parcels of real property that are valuable in part because of their proximity to a scenic view. People often pay a premium for residences and unimproved land close to the ocean or other beautiful vistas.

Unfortunately, the perceived value of one property can often change dramatically because of something that a neighboring property owner chooses to do. Someone might plant trees that eventually grow up and block a view. A property owner might plan an addition on their home that obstructs a neighbor’s view or erect a fence that alters what they can see from their home or yard.

Disputes about views are a common source of litigation

Those upset by property improvements or changes that affect their view might take the matter to the Massachusetts Land Courts. The Land Courts hear disagreements ranging from easement issues to one neighbor trimming a tree that grows on someone else’s property. They also hear claims brought by those who either want to prevent a project that would affect their view or seek compensation from a neighbor who has blocked their view.

Such claims are common enough that the state does have some specific laws that apply. For example, there is a statute against so-called spite fences, which involves someone intentionally erecting a fence on their property to impact the view that a neighbor has or to make the boundary between the properties less attractive. The nature of the obstruction, the relationship between the parties and the value of the properties involved can all play a major role in the likelihood of a claim related to an obstructed view succeeding in the land courts.

Some people are able to secure easements to protect their view rights. It is sometimes possible for people to hold their neighbors accountable for affecting their property value, and it is also often possible for landowners to move forward with a project even though their neighbors are unhappy about some of their decisions.

The outcome of such cases can often come down to very technical rules about open space and new construction, as well as local ordinances. Discussing the details of an obstructed view claim can help someone evaluate their case and whether there is a specific law or established precedent for a case similar to theirs previously litigated in Massachusetts.