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Do homeowners have a right to a nice view?

Mar 17, 2023 | Uncategorised

It all begins with a pigsty.In 1610, William Aldred took his neighbour Thomas Benton to court. His neighbour, he claimed, had ruined his quality of life by building the sty too close to his house. 

The Court ruled that the stench was a violation of Aldred’s rights – and in doing so set a precedent for ordinary citizens to take legal action over changes to their immediate environment.

During his ruling, however, the judge recited the English common law that there is no right to a view.

This remains the case in the UK. It was summarised by Lord Denning MR in Phipps v. Pears [1965]:

“Suppose you have a fine view from your house. You have enjoyed the view for many years. It adds greatly to the value of your house. But if your neighbour chooses to despoil it, by building up and blocking it, you have no redress. There is no such right known to the law as a right to a prospect or view”.

There are, however, a couple of workarounds – and a new precedent set in 2009.

What steps can you take to protect a view?

If you’re buying a property with an attractive view and wish to protect it, there are a couple of options available to you.

One is to enter into a contract with the landowner – but a landowner needs a financial incentive not to build on their land. This means that the new owner will end up paying for this protection on top of the property price.

The second option is to enter into a covenant with the landowner. This is similar to a contract but is more restrictive for the landowner because it’s sold along with the land. So, if a landowner agrees not to develop new properties on their land, they’re essentially decreasing its value when it comes to putting it up for sale.

This isn’t only an issue with the rights of homeowners – it’s also an issue in climate legislation. “Conservation covenants” exist to make landowners conserve their land in an environmentally responsible way but, in doing so, they’re likely to end up with a less valuable asset.

It’s clear at this point that the law works in the landowner’s favour – especially as there’s no upper limit to how much they can demand before entering into a contract or covenant.

The real-world consequence of this is that if you’re looking to buy a property with a nice view, you need to be aware that it’s unlikely to be protected by law.

That said, an exception was made in 2009 that centred on the question of covenants.

The case of Davies v. Dennis and Others [2009]

In 2009, Mr and Mrs Dennis took Mr Davies to court over a property development on Heron Island in Berkshire.

All three lived on this small island on the north bank of the Thames in a residential estate that consists of 47 three-storey houses.

Part of the appeal of this estate was that each house had a view of the Thames – and Mr Davies’s new property would block Mr and Mrs Dennis’s.

All property owners on the island were subject to restrictive and positive covenants related to these views.

One of these forbade developers to build any new houses without first getting the approval of the management company. Another obliged property owners “not to do or suffer to be done on the Plot or any part of the Plot anything of whatsoever nature which may be or become a nuisance or annoyance to the owners or occupiers for the time being of the Estate or the neighbourhood.”

Even though Mr Davies had obtained planning permission, Mr and Mrs Dennis accused him of creating “nuisance or annoyance” in the form of spoiling their river view – and the judge ruled in their favour.

It’s important to note that it was Mr Davies’s violation of the covenant that led to the judge’s decision, not any specific piece of legislation. In other words, contract law gave the couple greater protection than common law.

The case is a small win for property owners. The law is still weighted in favour of landowners – but Davies v. Dennis and Others might give them pause before building a property that will block someone else’s view. It also gives homeowners legal recourse based on a breach of covenant.

The possible impact of visual impact assessments

While homeowners don’t have a right to a view per se, the planning process does take into account the impact of proposed developments on “public visual amenity“.

This can be the case with wind turbines. A 2014 report on “separation distances” between wind turbines and pylons and residential properties states that “the approach taken by inspectors in England confirms that in planning, no individual has a right to a particular view. However, there may be a point when, by virtue of the proximity, size and scale of a development, a residential property would be rendered so unattractive a place to live that planning permission should be refused”.

Whether this slight shift in emphasis will filter into urban property development is unknown.

What about the “right to light”?

In England and Wales, any building that has had 20 years of uninterrupted light through its windows can claim a “right to light”. This can be used against a proposed development if it will block the building’s light. This right, however, isn’t the same as the right to a pleasing view.

In summary, homeowners don’t have a legal right to a nice view. However, covenants with landowners can play their role in the event of a dispute.

Are you involved in a property dispute and looking for expert legal guidance? Our team of knowledgeable, no-nonsense property law solicitors can help you to resolve the issue quickly and affordably.

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