Famous Neighbors In Lawsuit Over Hedges in Santa Monica

Los Angeles trial attorney Browne Greene is in a lawsuit with his neighbor, former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides.  At issue?  A 40-foot hedge.

Mr. Angelides has reported Mr. Greene and his wife to the City of Santa Monica over their 40-foot hedge between their properties, claiming that it infringes on his view of the ocean.  Santa Monica generally only allows hedges to be 12 feet high but about 2,600 hedges, fences and walls in the City are grandfathered in because they pre-existed a 2007 law.  Mr. Angelides argued that Mr. Greene’s hedge is limited to a 28-foot high limit.

Neighbor lawsuits and disputes over hedges and trees are, of course, not only between famous attorneys and politicians.  In fact they are a common occurrence in Los Angeles.  Real estate attorneys are often called in because of not only the legal elements of the dispute but the emotional element as well.

Legal issues that arise in neighbor-on-neighbor lawsuits usually involve a boundary dispute, a view dispute or a tree that encroaches.

Neighbor boundary disputes often arise when one neighbor has survey done and finds out that that their neighbor’s fence is on their property.  The parties may have believed that the fence was the boundary between the properties.  Home buyers in California usually do not get surveys done when they buy a property so this misunderstanding is not unusual.  The easiest solution to this issue is to consult the survey.  It is a survey which shows the legal boundaries of a property, not a fence.  For example, a property owner can always build a fence anywhere on his property, even a few feet in from the property line.  The mere location of the fence does not establish the property line.  Although the solution appears easy, actually convincing a homeowner that land he thought was his is actually not is more difficult.  Neighbor boundary disputes often involve a fair amount of mediation and ‘therapy’ before a homeowner will concede the point.

This case between Mr. Greene and Mr. Angelides involves a view dispute but really involved compliance with a City law regarding the height of hedges.  Mr. Angelides contends that the four story hedge is blocking his view.  California law does not recognize a right to a view.  However, these cases can be resolved on other grounds, such as the height limit imposed by the City of Santa Monica in the Greene case.  Another issue that arises in real estate litigation between neighbors is a concept called a ‘spite fence’.  A spite fence can be either a fence or a hedge that was built maliciously to annoy a neighbor, usually because of its height.

Lastly, many neighbor lawsuits involve trees that grow over a boundary.  The tree may drop fruit, block a view or otherwise disrupt the neighbor’s enjoyment of her property.  California has well-developed law relating to trees.  In general, a neighbor may not kill or destroy a neighbor’s tree.  A neighbor may trim the portions of the tree which encroach over the boundary line, but not to the point of killing the tree.  Trees which straddle the property line (the trunk is on both properties) are the joint property of the property owners and, similarly, may not be removed or destroyed by one of the other neighbor without the other’s consent.  There are hefty fines for the illegal removal of trees in Los Angeles and throughout California.

The City of Santa Monica ordered the Greenes to cut down their hedge to the 28 foot limit.  The Greenes, through their attorneys, took the case to the Superior Court.  After a September 9 hearing the court ordered the hedge cut down to the 228-foot height over a certain amount of time.  This order was based on the advice of an arborist.

Los Angeles real estate litigation attorney Laine T. Wagenseller has written a number of articles regarding neighbor lawsuits based on trees, hedges, boundaries and more.  Visit www.wagensellerlaw.com to read those articles.