Case of the Day – Wednesday, November 7, 2018

YOU’RE BLOCKING THE VIEW I MAY SOME DAY HAVE

From the annals of neighborly chutzpah comes this tale of unmitigated gall. (Is there ever mitigated gall? Perhaps a question for another time.)

Implied view easements get a deservedly tough rap in this country. You can grant such an easement to a neighbor, and the courts will enforce it. But that is hardly ever the case, except in planned communities, where restrictive covenants control from the color of your house to whether you can have kids that aren’t cute.

Usually, it is a case where the neighbors have an expectation that nothing will ever change once they buy their property. Trees won’t grow, new buildings won’t go up, a new Dollar Tree won’t be built across the street. When life goes on, they respond with a suit alleging that life is spoiling the view.

But today’s case takes the cake. Here, the neighbors were accused of spoiling the view the plaintiffs anticipated someday having if they ever got around to building a patio from which to have a view. In other words, you can’t have it because I might want it someday.

There’s a good reason (besides slamming down uppity neighbors) such implied easements are never found to exist. Imagine the confusion. A buyer could identify all of the written easements on the land, but he or she could never know what unwritten easements in favor of presumptuous neighbors might be lurking out there. And the lenders could not be sure, either. Pretty soon, getting financing would be much tougher, finding willing buyers would be much more complex, and before you know, progress grinds to a halt.

It may seem crass and commercial, but recall the real estate market of seven years ago. No one is served by a return to that.

Kruger v. Shramek, 5 Neb.App. 802 (Neb.App. 1997). Eric and Ann Kruger bought a lot in the Eagle Run West subdivision of Omaha in late 1991. Two years later, John and tammy Shramek bout the lot next door. The Krugers preferred to savor the thought of building a house, while the Shrameks – a pair of go-getters – got right on it.

Both lots abut the picturesque 18th hole of the Champions Golf Course. When the Shrameks started building, they reviewed their plans with the subdivision developer, who approved them. The Krugers were another story. They complained about a change of water flow caused by the Shramek’s regrading. They complained about the fence. Mostly, they complained that the Shramek’s landscaping would ruin the view of the 18th hole from their yet-to-be-constructed patio.

The Shrameks tried to accommodate their would-be neighbors. They moved their downspouts underground and ran them to the golf course. They changed removed a berm, transplanted trees closer to their house, and removed some of the fill dirt near the property line between their lot and the Krugers’ place. Nothing worked. The Krugers remained dissatisfied with the potential obstruction of the view from their hypothetical house caused by the Shrameks’ backyard improvements.

This being America, they sued for an injunction to stop the Shrameks’ from developing their property, seeking an order requiring the Shrameks to restore the rear of their property to its original grade, remove the present fence, and remove the trees. They claimed the Shrameks’ improvements were a private nuisance. The district court denied the Krugers any relief, holding that the change in grade on the Shrameks’ property actually improved the Krugers’ view of the golf course, and at any rate, the improvements made to the Shrameks’ property were not so substantial an invasion of the Krugers’ use of their property to justify the injunctive relief requested and that due to Horgan’s approval of the Shrameks’ construction.

The Krugers appealed.

Held: The Krugers got no injunction.

An injunction is an extraordinary remedy and ordinarily will not be granted except in a clear case where there is actual and substantial injury. Such a remedy should not be granted, the Court said, unless the right is clear, the damage is irreparable, and the remedy at law is inadequate to prevent a failure of justice.

The Court said a private nuisance is a nontrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of his or her land. Nebraska follows § 822 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that “one is subject to liability for a private nuisance if, but only if, his or her conduct is a legal cause of an invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land and the invasion is intentional and unreasonable. With respect to a nuisance in the context of an action in equity, the invasion of or interference with another’s private use and enjoyment of land must be substantial.”

The general rule is that a lawful building or structure cannot be complained of as a private nuisance merely because it obstructs the view of neighboring property. This rule flowed from the repudiation of the traditional English doctrine of ancient lights. Under that doctrine, a landowner acquired an easement for light across an adjoining landowner’s property and could prevent the adjoining landowner from obstructing the light once the easement was established by the passage of time. The ancient lights doctrine as applied to claims involving views has been repudiated by every state considering it. One basis for the doctrine’s repudiation is that “it is not adapted to the conditions existing in this country and could not be applied to rapidly growing communities without working mischievous consequences to property owners.” The doctrine essentially created an unwritten negative prescriptive easement over a neighbor’s property, which would frustrate the purpose of the recording statutes, one objective of which is to ensure that all property rights are recorded and discoverable by a diligent title search.

The Court adopted the majority rule that a lawful building or structure, including landscaping improvements associated with any such building or structure, cannot be complained of as a private nuisance merely because it obstructs the view of neighboring property. “Based upon this proposition of law and our determination that the improvements made by the Shrameks were lawful,” the Court ruled, “we conclude that the district court did not err in denying the Krugers injunctive relief based on their private nuisance theory.”

– Tom Root

TNLBGray140407

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