UNPUBLISHED Washington State Appellate Court decision (December 22, 2014).
This case involved a dispute between adjacent homeowners in a common interest development over the height of trees on one of the owner’s property that interfered with the view from the other owner’s property. The governing documents for the community contained a covenant that restricts the removal of certain plants and trees and also limits the height of certain plants and trees to six feet.
The owner whose view was obstructed by the height of the other neighbor’s trees filed suit seeking injunctive relief and enforcement of the six foot height limitation. He also claimed a right to recover the costs and attorney fees he was incurring. The facts demonstrated that when he purchased his property, he enjoyed a virtually unobstructed view and that the predecessor in title to the neighboring property in question cooperated in topping the trees to preserve the view. When the defendant purchased the neighboring property, he refused to continue topping the existing trees and he also planted a row of additional trees along the property line, all of which have grown to be over six feet tall and obscured the plaintiff’s view. The defendant refused the plaintiff’s requests to trim the trees down to six feet and the homeowners association would not intervene. The association took the position that the issue was a “neighbor to neighbor” dispute that the parties were free to litigate between themselves in accordance with the governing documents.
The trial court found the applicable covenant ambiguous and ruled that it did not apply to “naturally occurring growth,” but it did apply to trees that had been artificially planted. It also ruled that the covenant in question did not create absolute view rights in the plaintiff. Thus, it ruled that the six foot height limitation applied to some but not all of the trees that were obstructing the plaintiff’s view. The trial further ruled that neither party had prevailed so it refused to award either party its requested costs and attorney fees. The trial court order did not address the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief.
The appellate court reversed the decision in part by finding that the covenant in question was not ambiguous and that said covenant imposed a six foot height limitation on all trees and shrubs that were not protected under the original plan of development — although no evidence had been presented on what trees were to be protected as part of the plan of development. The appellate court decision also affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the covenant did not create absolute view rights in the plaintiff. Thus, the case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings to determine what trees were protected as part of the original development plan. On the issue of an award of costs and attorney fees, the appellate court ruled that neither party prevailed on appeal so the issue was left to be resolved by the trail court when the remanded issues were finally resolved.
See case decision:Lightner_v._Shoemaker_(Wash (1)