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SPITE FENCE LAW - CALIFORNIA

A “spite fence” is an overly tall fence, or structure (including trees or hedges) in the nature of a fence, constructed or planted between adjacent lots by a property owner who desires to annoy a neighbor.

California has a specific spite fence statute:

“Any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance. Any owner or occupant of adjoining property injured either in his comfort or the enjoyment of his estate by such nuisance may enforce the remedies against its continuance prescribed in Title 3, Part 3, Division 4 of this code.”

Civil Code Section 841.4

If even your view is obstructed by your neighbor's trees, you may have a remedy pursuant to Civil Code 841.4

In the California appellate case of Wilson v. Handley (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 1301, the Court determined that a row of trees planted parallel to a property line can be a fence or other structure in the nature of a fence within the meaning of the spite fence statue stating: "…Because the spite fence statute must be liberally construed, we conclude a row of trees can be a 'fence or other structure in the nature of a fence' and thus can be a spite fence under section 841.4.”

The Court concluded a "row of trees planted on or near the boundary line between adjoining parcels of land can be a 'fence or other structure in the nature of a fence ' " for purposes of section 841.4. (Italics added.)

Thus, if the neighbor's dominant tree planting purpose at or near a property line is to annoy the his or her neighbor, then malice requirement is fulfilled.  But if the owner's dominant purpose is another motive, such as to beautify the property or privacy protection, then the malice requirement is not met.

In Vanderpol v. Starr (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 385, a California court of appeal held that a row of trees that one property owner grew along the boundary between their properties blocking the other property owner’s ocean view, could act as a fence-like structure and be subject to the spite fence law.

 At trial, the “jury found the Starrs maliciously maintained trees that unnecessarily exceeded 10 feet for the dominant purpose of annoying the Vanderpols. However, the jury did not find, nor was it asked to find, in the special verdict that the Starrs were injured in either their comfort or enjoyment of their property, as also required by section 841.4.”  Therefore, because the jury was not asked to determine if there was injury to the neighbor’s comfort and enjoyment, the appellate court ordered a new trial on the matter. 

 

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