What to do when the neighbour blocks your view

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

What happens when the neighbour’s new building threatens to obstruct the view that you love?

There's a good reason why people are willing to pay a fortune for the right view - it adds value to a property. But, as many have found, the view you enjoy isn't guaranteed to last and buyers should take a long hard look at the surrounds in order to gauge the risk that future development may pose to the vista they currently enjoy.

A number of high profile court cases have brought the right to a view to the fore and although there have been exceptions, generally speaking it has been found that the owner of a property cannot stop their neighbours from building a home (or a commercial property) simply because the dwelling will impede their view.

In one of the more recent cases, which went all the way to the Constitutional Court, the owners of a bed and breakfast situated in Ramsgate on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal attempted to stop developers building two multi storey apartment blocks that the business owner said would obstruct sea views from his property. The case was dismissed, which on the face of things was good news for the developer. However, the legal battles had taken their toll on the development - hardly surprising, given that the battle had been raging for 11 years. By the time the decision was handed down by the highest court in the land, the economy had slowed, the half built building needed to be assessed by engineers and the developers were uncertain whether they would continue with the build, at least in the short term. The costs involved for both parties must have been enormous and at the end of the day, it has to be asked if there were any clear winners in this drawn out saga.

Basically, when you buy a home, you will have little or no say on what is built in front of you, providing that the person constructing the new building has secured and met all the required municipal requirements. Objections may obviously be raised at the appropriate time, however, the fact that the proposed dwelling may interfere with your view is generally not a good enough reason to can a building project.

Homeowners become pretty passionate about their views and are likely to try and take action, particularly if, in their opinion, the offending building does not comply with municipal regulations or if the correct planning permission has not been obtained. In other words, although the average neighbour may turn a blind eye to unauthorised additions to a home, they are highly unlikely to sit back and allow their view to be destroyed or distorted by an illegal build. This was highlighted in a case involving a Rhodes University professor who had not secured the correct planning permission before erecting his R8-million home. Most of us don't give a hoot who builds what or if the owners are building to the book or not. However, the fact that the professor's neighbours had enjoyed panoramic views of the ocean before the new build was always going to be cause for a fight and that's exactly what the professor got - a mammoth fight which eventually led to the court’s decision that the home had to be demolished.

The message is fairly clear: while it is it imperative that all municipal requirements are firmly in place before you build, this is particularly important if you are intend to build something that is ultimately going to interfere with a neighbour’s view. Be warned, they probably aren't going to sit back and allow this to happen and the repercussions could be extremely costly.

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