You Be The Judge - LawCall

You Be The Judge

You buy an ocean-front property, it’s your dream vacation home and you intend to enjoy it for many years to come. However, your neighbors have a different idea about landscaping – one that ultimately blocks that million-dollar view.

This is what happened to Eugene and Jenny Vanderpol. Their neighbor’s 20 eucalyptus trees grew to a height that was blocking their ocean view. So, the Vanderpols offered to pay to have the trees trimmed. The “offenders”, Fred and Indra Starr agreed to have their trees cut back to 14-feet tall.

The Vanderpols also paid for the trimming the following year, but the third time, Mrs. Starr decided she didn’t want the trees trimmed at all. But that wasn’t all – the Starrs planted additional trees: up to 20 pine trees and 65 Italian cypresses. Well, you can see the problem here – not being able to see their view was the Vanderpol’s problem.

The problem continued for several years, and finally the Vanderpols decided to sue the Starrs.  In California, there is a “spite fence” law, which states that any fence or fence-like structure “maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property” is prohibited.

The Vanderpol’s suit alleges that the Starrs “planted or installed numerous trees, shrubs and/or similar plants near the common property line at such a height and density” so as to block their ocean view and devalue their home by $57-thousand dollars.

The Starr’s attorney maintains that his clients needed the trees for privacy because the Vanderpols could see straight into the Starr’s back yard when using their back yard deck.

What do you think? Should the Starrs be made to cut back their trees?

Initially, the courts ruled in favor of the Vanderpols. But upon appeal, the judge ruled in favor of the Starrs, saying that the maintenance of the trees was not done to annoy or vex the Vanderpols.

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