I love the view from my house. Can my neighbor block my view when he builds a new house? What options do I have to save my view?
By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Q: We live in a 1962 subdivision. The houses are situated on irregularly shaped lots to form an open area that is landscaped with vistas of mature trees and a leafy, verdant backdrop. We have with very low, split-rail fences to mark our property lines. We have an open airy feeling in our subdivision. Our picture window looks out over a portion of a neighbor’s lot that makes a pleasant view.
As you can imagine, we live in a very sought after neighborhood. Our neighbor is quite elderly. We are concerned that when our neighbor dies the property will be sold to someone who wants to either expand the house or demolish it and replace it with another. Can my neighbor block my view when he builds a new house? Either scenario could spoil our view.
We would like to buy the portion of the neighbor’s lot that frames our view. Can my neighbor block my view when he builds a new house? How should we proceed?
Power of Good Neighbors
A: Longtime readers of our column know that we’re big believers in the power of being good neighbors.
To us, that means helping out your neighbors whenever you can. We’ve become close with several of our neighbors over the years, but not to the same degree. For example, we’ve vacationed with one family and although they no longer live next door, we still meet most Sundays for family dinner. With our current neighbors, we pick up papers for each other if someone goes out of town, keep an eye out for their young kids who are out and about, and occasionally throw a bone (literally) to their dog.
But not everyone is lucky enough to live next to kind, helpful people. Which brings us to your elderly neighbor: What kind of relationship have you had with her since you moved into your beautiful neighborhood? Do you bring over the occasional treat? Stop to visit with her if you pass by and she’s sitting on the porch? Do you know her children and grandchildren from decades of visits? Does she participate in neighborhood activities?
Or, have you never, ever, had a single conversation?
If you have a warm relationship with your neighbor, the thing to do is walk over with a plate of something sweet and homemade and strike up a conversation about how lovely your neighborhood is, and how much you love living there.
Start a conversation with a neighbor to resolve issues
With that table set, you can start to ask questions to elicit your neighbor’s feelings about her property and the bucolic landscape. Ask her what her favorite parts are of the neighborhood? Is there anything she misses about it (if there was a change)? Does she see herself staying in the neighborhood or, if she has family elsewhere, does she see herself spending more time away?
You should have some helpful insights at this point in the conversation about what she likes and perhaps dislikes about the neighborhood, and whether she sees herself staying or going. She might ask you, “Why do you ask?” To which you can honestly reply, “I see us living here forever, and I’d love to make sure things stay the way they are.”
She might ask what you propose and at that point, perhaps you talk about buying her property at some point in the future, whenever she’s ready to get rid of it. And, you might say, “If you’d be willing to sell sooner rather than later, we’d be happy to rent it back to you for as long as you care to live there.”
She may not want to move before she dies, because that is a big undertaking. But, she may have an interest in accessing additional cash, either to ease any cash flow issues she has, or because she wants to give money to family members while she’s alive to see how they use it.
Don’t make assumptions. Ask your neighbor questions.
But you have to handle it sensitively, because you don’t want her to feel as though you’re pushing her into the grave before her time. So, reassure her that you love having her as a neighbor, you love the way the neighborhood looks and lives, and you’d just like to keep it the way it is today.
She may tell you to buzz off. She may say, “Talk to my kids after I’m dead.” Or, she may listen and nod and think about it for a few days or a few weeks. If that’s the case, check in with her from time to time, just to see if she’s thought about it. If she says, “What will that look like?” you should be prepared to tell her a process by which you would come up with a price for a slice of her yard, or the whole property, if local zoning ordinances won’t allow you to carve up the lot the way you’ve imagined.
At the end of the day, you can either ask now or wait until later, after your neighbor passes away. But, as you point out, then there will be other interests that come into play. Be sure to let us know how the conversation goes.
If you fail to get the issue resolved with the neighbor, the neighbor can block your view when he builds a new house?
©2021 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin