UNPUBLISHED California Appellate Court decision (August 14, 2017).
This case involved a dispute between neighboring homeowners over the maintenance of landscaping that obstructed the view from one of the owners property. The disputing parties both lived in a common interest community that was governed by CC&Rs that contained view restrictions. The restrictions in question provided that no landscape materials shall be allowed to grow upon any of the lots in such a manner as to substantially impair the view from adjacent lots. The restrictions also required that all landscaping be maintained in a neat and orderly condition at all times after installation.
The plaintiffs in this action purchased their home in the community in 1973, and have resided there ever since. When they first purchased their property, they enjoyed a largely uninterrupted southerly view of Mission Bay and the Point Loma shorelines, but as the landscaping on neighboring properties matured over the years, portions of their southerly view became obscured. By 1990, the plaintiffs started complaining to neighboring owners, including the previous owners of the property that was subsequently purchased by the defendant that their landscaping was in violation of the CC&Rs. The defendant purchased his property in 2003, and shortly thereafter he received requests from the plaintiffs that the trees on his property which obscured the view from the plaintiffs property be trimmed. After repeated unsuccessful requests for the tree trimming, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant alleging violations of the CC&Rs landscaping restrictions.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant based on a conclusion that the plaintiffs action was barred by an applicable five year statute of limitations. The trial court found that the plaintiffs had knowledge of the alleged violations more than five years prior to when they filed their complaint. The trial court also ruled that characterizing the alleged violations as a continuing nuisance, which has no statute of limitations, is inappropriate under California law for claims relating to view impairment. The plaintiffs appealed the judgment rendered by the trial court.
The appellate court ruled that in some cases that involve issues about when a statute of limitations period begins to run, there are factual issues that must be resolved by a trier of the facts which preclude a court from granting summary judgment as a matter of law. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the applicable provision in the CC&Rs required a determination of when an owners landscaping had grown to a point that it substantially impairs the view from other properties. The court noted that the key factual issue for statute of limitation purposes is when the critical mass occurred, and more specifically, whether the critical mass upon which the present claim is based was reached more than five years before the lawsuit was filed (the critical mass being the point at which the landscaping in question substantially impaired the view from other properties.
The appellate court also noted that, because the applicable state statute of limitations also contained a provision that stated a failure to pursue a claim for violations would not waive the right to commence an action for any other violation of the restriction, the plaintiffs would not be barred from pursuing a claim if the trier of fact found that at some point in time their views were restored to an insubstantial impairment by some trimming that had been performed, but thereafter, at a point in time that was within five years of when the lawsuit was filed, the landscaping in question grew back to a point where it created a new substantial impairment.
The appellate court reversed the trial courts judgment and remanded the case back to the trial court for a trial as to the factual issues pertaining to point in time that triggered the running of the five year period of limitations.
See case decision: Nicolaidis_v._Wechter_(Cal._App._2017)1