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Q&A: My Neighbors Stole My River View. Can I Make Them Give It Back?

Credit: Nadia Pillon

July 28, 2018

By Ronda Kaysen

Q: I live in a house in Rockville Centre, N.Y., with a river view but no direct access to the water. My neighbor’s hedges and overgrown shrubbery are obscuring my panoramic view of this waterway and its waterfowl. Do I have the right to ask the neighbors to trim back these obstructions, and to what extent?

A: New York law does not guarantee you the right to a panoramic view, or even sunlight, regardless of whether you had it when you bought the home. So, your best chance at reclaiming this asset will come from your neighbors.

Write a thoughtful letter, conveying how much the river means to you and how the hedges have lessened your enjoyment of it. You could leave it on your neighbor’s doorstep with a tasteful gift, like a box of chocolates or a basket of fresh fruit. Then invite them over for a glass of iced tea so they can see how the hedges block your vantage. If they seem reluctant to help, offer to pay for the pruning.

It’s possible the hedges are a low priority for the neighbors, and your gesture will persuade them to act. Or they may reject your request, perhaps favoring their privacy over your enjoyment of the river.

If that happens, your options are limited. You could cut any branches or shrubbery that cross onto your property, so long as you do not trespass or kill the plants. You could also look to your town’s rules for help. Many municipalities require homeowners to keep shrubbery tidy, to varying degrees. You may be able to file a complaint with Rockville Centre against your neighbor, on the grounds that the overgrown hedges and shrubs create a nuisance and diminish your property’s value. If the trees or shrubs block the view of the road for vehicles, you could report the condition to the village clerk or the public works department.

“If the hedges are 20 feet tall and don’t look like they belong, the neighbor may get a ticket,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Before you report this issue, though, consider the risks. Your neighbor could end up with a ticket and prune the hedges enough to comply with the rules, but not enough to restore your view. In that scenario, you would be left with your obstruction and a damaged relationship with your neighbor.

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