Trees Obstructing Views

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  • I am writing to ask for advice on how to deal with a neighbour whose trees (pittosporums) have grown up along our fence line to the point that they completely obscure the view from our property (the view was obscured when we bought the property).  We respect their need for privacy and have approached them a couple of times offering to engage an arborist who would prune and thin the trees in a way that maintains their privacy and we would bear the costs. But they refuse to open up to a compromise with us.  It is extremely frustrating.  We are considering a mediator in the hope that we’ll be able to move this forward in a civil manner. I’d love to hear about any experiences that could be relevant for our situation, links to potential mediators, and experience with mediating with neighbours.

    Did you mean to say that the view was not obscured when you bought the property? f the trees were already there and already obscuring the view, it's unlikely that you have much to gain from pursuing this legally. Berkeley does have a solar light and views ordinance, but it specifically protects views that were there when you bought the property and have since been obscured. It also gives weight to privacy trees providing visual, auditory, and wind protection to the owners. Pittosporum are generally planted as privacy/sound screening trees, so it's likely that if they have grown up along the fence line, this is by design, and your neighbors probably do not want to thin them or otherwise prune them to allow you to see through or over them, since that would counter the trees' purpose. You could certainly ask the City to review the situation and see if it is covered by the ordinance, though.

    First, check the Berkeley City code on these types of neighbor issues.  Go to the city website or do a google search - just keep searching around until you find it.  You might be able to engage help from city but depends on situation.  You did not mention that any branches hang over on to your property, did you?  Roots? City code and Nolo press publications speak to this.  Also, keep everything in writing or take notes about dates you communicated with them.  Just saying.      

    Sorry to be a killjoy but if you bought the property knowing that the trees were there obscuring your view, you need to live with it. The other owner is under no obligation to negotiate even if its the neighborly thing to do. 

  • Neighbor wants us to remove trees

    (10 replies)

    We bought our house recently. We were doing some work before we moved in and the neighbor came over and asked about what our plan was about the tree removal. They had asked the previous owner to remove the trees. Nice way to meet a new neighbor! Buyer’s remorse set in very quickly but we are stuck here. Since we moved in, the same neighbor has asked several times about the tree plan. These trees are large,  create shade which we want but I guess they don’t want. They also claim that the trees block their view and are affecting the retaining wall. We had several arborists come and all of them confirmed that these trees, if anything, might affect our retaining wall but not theirs due to the topography and the type of trees they are. I asked the neighbor and they don’t have photographic proof of the view they had at the time of purchase. These trees predate any of the property owners that live in the neighborhood. The trees provide valuable shade and privacy for us. Neighbors did not offer to pay for removal and replacement. Just simply keeps asking “what about those trees?” I want to feel comfortable in our new home and neighborhood. The neighbor in question is generally well liked in the hood and otherwise cordial and friendly. They are never rude but persistent. Arborists all tell us it’s doing great things for us now but may be beneficial to remove in the next 10-20 years as they do have potential to grow very tall and these are all small lots.  They are healthy and what they do for us is nearly impossible to replace because trees don’t grow to 20-30 ft fast and not many trees can provide similar shade. Arborists estimate these trees may be over 50 years old. We got an estimate and it would cost over $10,000 to remove and replace. We also spoke with a lawyer who specializes in neighbor law and were informed that the neighbor does not have legal right to force removal and thus court would order them to pay to remove and replace. 

    Should I suggest a mediation? I want to be a good neighbor and what they want and what we want seen irreconcilable.

    Comments, thoughts, insights will be greatly appreciated.

    I would put the ball back in their court and simply tell them that based on the specialists you've consulted, the trees are healthy and not a danger to their retaining wall, so you have no plans to remove them given that the shade and privacy are important to you. You could certainly prune the trees down a bit (which it sounds like you might want to do anyway to keep them a more manageable size) and present that as your peace offering. It sounds like the previous owners also declined, so this won't be the first time they've heard it. If the trees predate their ownership of their property, I don't think they have a leg to stand on as far as the view, and wouldn't even open that can of worms. If they want to push that as the rationale, let them do so through the official channels. Depending on the city you live in, you may not even be permitted to remove them--Oakland, for instance, has a tree ordinance that requires a permit and notice to all of the nearby neighbors, some of whom may actually enjoy your trees. Good luck!

    I agree with the prior poster. As a peace offering, tell them that you are comfortable having the trees pruned, as long as they pay for this, and you ok the arborist and the amount of pruning. By way of background, we went to our downhill neighbors with a similar proposal - we had photos of our view when we bought the house, and offered to have an arborist of their choice trim their trees for our benefit primarily - to restore our views. It went very smoothly - though it was expensive. 

    We had similar problems. Agreed to move a tree from the lot line which died, and also agreed to cut down another tree. Then they had concerns about other trees and plants. Talked to both an arborist and a plumber who both said that their concerns about their pipes were unwarranted -- that the pipes were old and if they cracked it would be because of age, not because of our trees. Long story short, we attempted to meet their demands for a number of years, and the demands escalated. At this time we are barely talking to each other. I don't have a solution, but I would say that allowing demanding neighbors to control how you behave in your yard is likely to lead to more demands, not resolution.

    I think you’ve already done everything a good neighbor should do (and then some) by obtaining the advice of an arborist and an attorney. Honestly it sounds like the neighbor is trying to intimidate you. Next time it comes up I would just politely but firmly state that you are not removing the trees as they provide a benefit to your property and that you’d rather not discuss it again. If it comes up again I would write them a letter again politely laying out everything you’ve said in this post and restating that for all these reasons you will not be removing the trees. You shouldn’t have to research mediators. This isn’t your problem, it’s your neighbor’s. 

    You've gone above and beyond by having specialists come out to examine your trees, and by consulting with a lawyer. They have no legal right to ask you to make this change. Maybe tell them firmly you will not be removing them and it is not up for discussion. If they keep pestering you, tell them you are happy to have a friendly chat but unwilling to engage in any further discussions about your property.

    Although this was not about trees, our neighbor wouldn’t leave us alone about getting our house painted when we moved in. The first words out of his mouth were, “you know you need to paint your house right?” He kept at it for like a year. I was always so nice to him and half-jokingly said things like, “we don’t have the money- do you want to pay for it?” I never avoided him and always waved or talked to him when I saw him. Now it’s 7 years later, and we have developed a very friendly relationship. He quit bringing it up. My point is that kindness and empathy go a long way. Maybe they would leave it alone after they get to know you. But other than that, I agree don’t let them dictate what you do. Good luck! 

    If they want the tree pruned for their view, they have to pay for it.  Neighbors above our house demanded that our redwood be pruned so that a "window" be made in the middle.  The arborist was fantastic and really represented the tree and its health rather than the neighbors, and made a plan as to which branches would be cut.  They thought they could orchestrate the whole thing from their house while the cutting was in progress but he said absolutely not.   And if the professional opinions state that there's no damage to their retaining walls, just be sure you get that in writing to show them. 

    This has happened to me on 3 occassions. The 1st guy we decided to cut down the tree for and his request for additional things were endless. In our next house a neighbor complained about the tree and we said "no" and she ended up poisoning the tree so we had to remove it. On our most recent house the neighbor came over and complained about the tree and we told them if they wanted to remove it, they could at their cost. Meanwhile we pruned it back. They became extremely bitter never removed it and have been the bane of our existence. Even coming up with frivolous lawsuits.
    It's a no win situation. Just save your money and pray these people go away. It always baffles me people sense of entitlement in things they don't own or shouldnt have a say in.

    I think you are just going to have to cut off contact with these people. Tell them "NO." And never talk to email with them again. Don't try to be a good neighbor. They are counting on that and you really shouldn't get involved. 

    We had a similar problem after moving into our home in the berkeley hills. Neighbor said previous owner agreed to remove tree because it had grown to a point it was blocking his view and it didn’t before. We called previous owner to check his story and he said it was a lie. We told neighbor of what previous owner said. Neighbor wanted 8 feet topped off  which would have killed the tree. We presented  letter from arborist saying as such. We declined topping off tree. We received a few letters from neighbor including one threatening legal action. We ignored the letters and haven’t heard from him in over 10 years. The reality is many, if not most, homes in the berkeley hills have a view blocked by trees. If you want to keep the tree tell him you enjoy the tree and will not chop it down and ignore him. What you’re going through is a common “initiation rite” for new home owners in the Berkeley Hill. Hold your ground and they’ll go away. Try this: invite your neighbor over and show him a tree blocking YOUR view and tell him if he can convince the owner of that tree to chop down that tree you will chop down your tree blocking his view. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Neighbor's responsibility to maintain tree heights?

Nov 2006

Could you, please, pass on to me any information, personal experience, or contacts regarding a neighbor's responsibility, or otherwise, to maintain tree heights and vistas in the Berkeley hills? We are having a tough time with this non-issue. Thank you. 

It's not clear how much research you have done yet. If you haven't looked up the Solar Access and Views Ordinance, start there:

If this link doesn't work, go to the City of Berkeley home page at and click on Municipal Code & Zoning Ordinance (near the top) and in ''Contents'' on the left navigate to Title 12 and then to Chapter 12.45 anon

Neighbor's trees making a mess in our yard & blocking view

June 2006

Our neighbor, whom we share our back yard fence with, has secluded herself with trees as high as 20 ft. some fruit trees are hanging above our yard, and when the fruits fall, it all goes on the ground. There is one tree which has small white bloom (no fruits) and is the tallest. It makes such a big mess in our yard, all over, and on top of that, blocks the view. Over the last 6 years since we bought the house, the view to the bay (which we feel is part of the house value) has gradually become more and more limited.. I tried to approach her once and she got defensive, and said she would not trim it down, since it has been there for over 25 years. I should also add that we live in an unincorporated zone and the border between us and the Richmond city IS our shared fence. Any ideas how to handle this situation? anon

Our neighbor had the same attitude (he's a lawyer and said 'so sue me' at one point). So we sliced the trees, as if a laser came straight up from the fence. If it was on our side, we cut it, and all was good. Have fun anon

Our situation is opposite of yours - we are considering planting some trees so that our neighbor, who has built up and UP and UP, can no longer see into the living room of our house. Unfortunately, our trees could partially block her view of the bay.

Our town has the local ordinances online. In our town in Contra Costa county, ''A claimant has no right greater than that which existed at the time of the claimant's acquisition of the property involved in the view claim.'' I assume this to mean that our neighbor only has the right to the view they had when they bought the house, that is, their pre-addition view. If there is a similar ordinance in your town your neighbor might be legally obligated to trim her trees.

Our ordinance also states that the claimant has to provide ''evidence.'' Pictures or video, I guess, of the original view.

It would be good to know specifically where you stand with local regulations before talking to her again. It's too bad she's defensive. Would it be worth it to you (to preserve neighborly good feelings) to split the cost of the tree trimming with her? Leigh

I'm going to take your neighbor's point of view at least slightly. We have an oak tree overhanging our deck and yard that is growing primarily in our neighbor's yard. Having the tree is, we feel, a major part of the beauty of OUR view. In the time that we've lived there, we have had a neighbor who lopped off, without any regard for the health or beauty of the tree, the top two-thirds of the branches. After this happened, I couldn't stop crying for hours. It totally messed up, for us, the feeling of living in the treetops that we had had before that. So please understand, the trees may be to your neighbor what the bay view is to you.

I am not saying don't work with your neighbor to get the trees trimmed. But please, please understand what your neighbor may be afraid of, and that your neighbor may love the trees very much. With that in mind, perhaps you could approach your neighbor again, explain that you would be willing to pay for at least half of the services of a GOOD, SENSITIVE tree-trimming company, who could truly trim (as opposed to butcher) the trees, making them healthier and more beautiful as well as helping out with your view issues Karen

Read the book Neighbor Law: Fences Trees Boundaries and Noise published by Nolo Press (probably available at your library) for ideas for solutions - I believe that you have the right to trim the portion of the tree that hangs over your property a

If i were you, my first step would be to have an arborist (certified or licenced?) visit your yard and take a look at the trees and see what they would do IF they could do it. And get an estimate. It often helps to get an expert opinion. You can probably find recommendations for arborsists here.

Before or after that, see if there are tree ordinances for the City of Richmond and for COntra Costa COunty unincorporated areas. Get yourself educated.

Once you get an ideaa of responsible options for pruning or otherwise caring for the trees, then you could casually approach your neighbor and try another dialogue. Perhpas you can set up a meeting with you, your neighbor and anarborist to go over recommendations and costs.

The last resort, I think, is to trim back what you think needs trimming on your side of the fence. I am not an expert in the law or in your local ordinances, but I THINK that usually one can trim anything hanging over their property line. My BIG caution would be to not trim anything that would make the tree's sprouting worse (that is why you need professional advice). And definitely don't go on her property (or ask your arborist to) without her permission Tree Lover and View Lover

As far as I know, if your neighbor's trees hang over your yard/property, you are allowed to trim the tree back to the property line. You don't need their permission, just do it. The only caveat is if you trim it so much that the tree dies, then you're liable for the damage to their tree (i.e. don't trim so much that it affects the tree on their side of the property line)

Neighbor wants to plant trees that will block our view

June 2005

My husband and I recently bought a house in the Berkeley hills with a view of the Golden Gate bridge. For the most part, it's not an uninterrupted view, as many trees, telephone poles and such are in the way; but we can see the bridge from parts of the house and from the backyard, which is upslope from the house. My neighbor, who has an uninterrupted expansive view of the bay, has decided to plant a wall of sycamore trees along our shared property line. These trees, when fully grown, will block most of our view from the back yard.

We have had a good relationship with these neighbors. We converse regularly, pass garden vegetables over the shared fence, and we have never complained about the constant barking of their two German Shepherd dogs.

We have had several polite conversations about the proposed sycamores, where we've expressed our concerns about our view, and suggested alternatives (different types of plants, shorter trees, etc.). However, our neighbor has decided to plant these trees anyway (though he hasn't yet). His argument is that our view is from our house only, not from the backyard. He wants to plant these trees to block his view of our roof from his backyard.

We continue to have a friendly dialog about about planting these trees. However, he is growing more adamant, and I'm not confident that he can be persuaded.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what else I can do? Does Berkeley have any view ordinances regarding trees (not buildings)? Thanks very much for any ideas. anonymous

I've read that Berkeley does have an ordinance protecting your view. You have the right to the view you had when you bought your house, but if you have to pay for your neighbor's trimming if you insist on maintaining that view. You'll want to investigate this further and then inform your neighbor. Obviously it's better if you can dissuade your neighbor now. Berkeley also has a low cost mediation program that might help you. In the meantime, you might take a few photos of your view for future refernce. Anon.

There is a tree/view ordinance in Berkeley though I don't recall precisely what it says. You should be able to get it through the City's website. I would also recommend you initiate mediation. Berkeley Dispute Resolution Services (BDRS) does just this sort of neighbor mediation on a donation basis. Whether you resolve it on your own or through mediation, check the ordinance first so you know where you stand legally on the issue. Amy


Before your neighbor plants the trees, give the East Bay Community Mediation a call. ( They are located on San Pablo Avenue. They offer consultations and mediations to neighbors. They will send out a letter to your neighbor asking for a mediation. You can then talk about the trees and the barking dogs in a neutral setting with two mediators. Last I checked, it was about $40/ sliding scale. Well worth the money.

I commend you for wanting to resolve this issue before it becomes confrontational. Your situation is challenging because these are your neighbors who you will see/live with for a long time to come. Also, they have a right to plant their trees even if they are blocking your lovely view. I hope you come to a happy resolution what ever it may be--different trees, different location, different sleeping area for dogs, different time schedules for dog run. a former mediator

You should talk to an attorney. California has a law that limits fences that I believe has been interpreted by courts to apply to trees that block views, and most cities have similar ordinances (I'd be shocked if Berkeley didn't - you can even check online because most cities post their ordinances). There is definitely case law on the issue of a neighbor blocking another neighbor's view, and the neighbor with the view may be protected. I don't think it matters whether the view is from the house or yard. Anyway, a real estate or land use attorney should be able to help you. Try Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger in SF, I think they specialize in this kind of thing, or could refer you to someone. anon

Berkeley has a view preservation ordinance that addresses tree blockage, codified as Title 12, Chapter 12.45 of the Municipal Code. You can find the Municipal Code on-line at I think that the ordinance extends to backyard views, although I'm not sure. You might also call the City and ask if they have any regulations of this particular sort of tree -- some cities require a permit for trees that are particularly apt to cause view problems. Ann

We have been on the other end of things with a very unreasonable neighbor who aggressively ''suggested'' that we top or cut down a beautiful, mature tree that is older than his house (and on the opposite end of our property from his) in order to preserve something like 1% of his panoramic view. Over the years we have learned a lot about the tree/view ordinances in the area and strongly suggest that you read Berkeley's ordinance for yourself, from beginning to end. However, the bottom line is, you don't own the air space over your neighbors' properties. If you approach it from the standpoint that you will be asking your neighbor for a favor, you will get much further than you ever will by going to court or even a mediator. Invite your neighbor to your home to talk about the problem. Serve refreshments. Show the neighbor the problem from your standpoint. Invest in the relationship, show courtesy and interest in his point of view, and be willing to compromise. Offer to share in the expense of replacing the new plantings with low-growing species. Offer to pay for an arborist's visit to get a good recommendation. Consider it a long-term investment in your peace of mind. This is a very hot issue all over the Bay area so there's a lot of experience to draw from. Although some people are impervious to respect and reason, my advice is to brush up on your people skills before running to a lawyer. Good luck. Been there