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3 Feb 2010
Water views in Sequim and Port Angeles are one of the great attractions for retirees, and we probably have more homes and land with water views than almost anywhere. Of course, being on a peninsula does help our cause. Because a water view is so important to most homeowners when they purchase their home or their lot, you will often find a view easement in the CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions). There are many kinds of easements. There are driveway easements, well maintenance easements, water line easements, trail easements, utility easements, septic easements, and view easements.
A view easement is intended to protect a homeowner’s view, whether that view is of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains, or a valley of fields. A water view may be absolutely beautiful from a vacant lot or a home, but are there trees and shrubs that will grow and hinder that view in the years to come? It’s no big deal if those trees or shrubs are on your property, since you can just trim them anytime you want. The challenge comes when those trees or shrubs are on the neighbor’s property.
If the trees grow into your water view four years after you move into your new home, and you ask your neighbor to cut or trim so your view will not be hindered, will your neighbor quickly respond with a cheerful, “Yes. I’d be glad to.” Let me help you out. In 20 years of law practice I never heard of that happening. When it comes to real estate, everyone tends to become very protective. In the vast majority of cases, this kind of situation ends up in an not-so-polite discourse between neighbors who were otherwise quite friendly with each other. Lawyers are soon sending hate letters, and the two neighbors might as well set up automatic payment withdrawals from their checking accounts directly to their attorneys’ accounts.
The answer to avoiding this nightmare scenario is to have a written view easement that protects your water view, or your mountain or valley view. A written view easement can be a provision in the CC&Rs, or as is the case so often, there will be a separate document entitled “View Easement,” and it will be recorded. The View Easement will define exactly which property is burdened with the easement and which property is the benefited property. The language should clearly spell out what must be done and by whom, and who will bear the expense.
If you have that written view easement, when it comes time to ask your neighbor politely to trim the trees, you can point out that this is a legal obligation in the covenants that run with the land. If the hair on the back of his neck goes up and he refuses, you can sue him to enforce the view easement, and most well drafted View Easements have a prevailing attorney’s fee clause.
A water view easement is especially valuable in Sequim and Port Angeles, and your view is worth a lot of money. Be sure you protect it, but ask your Realtor before you make an offer if your view easement is protected by a written recorded instrument. (There is such a thing as an implied view easement, but we’ll save that for another time.)
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