Was It Legal for My Neighbor to Block My View by Constructing a Cell Tower?

Check whether zoning, community association, or other rules prohibit a neighbor from allowing an unsightly cell tower on his land.

Question

A nearby property owner recently constructed a cell tower on his property. As a result, my beautiful view is now obstructed by an ugly cell tower and the character of my neighborhood has changed.

Is it legal for anyone to put a cell tower on their property, even in a residential neighborhood?

Answer

To provide cell coverage in an area, cellular telephone companies sometimes pay a property owner for the right to construct a cell tower on the owner’s property. In some cases, the tower may be designed to be inconspicuous, but in many cases, the tower is tall with several antennae and related components that create an eyesore.

Whether a neighbor can legally put up a cell tower depends on the answers to numerous other questions.

First, do you have what's called a "view easement?" Although not common, a view easement granted in your favor will restrict development on adjacent property that obstructs your view. View easements can run with the land, so even if the easement wasn’t granted to you personally, if the person you bought your property from (or someone earlier in the chain of title) obtained the easement, it may still be valid.

You most likely would have learned of the easement prior to closing on the sale of your home, but if you aren’t sure, a title company may be able to help you determine whether such protection exists.

Another important question is whether cell towers are permitted in the residential zone where you live. Many local jurisdictions have passed zoning ordinances regulating how property can be developed. While federal laws and regulations bar local governments from prohibiting cell towers, local jurisdictions can regulate where they are placed, as long as the effect is not to impede cell phone service. The result is that many cell phone towers end up near, or in, residential zones.

Check with your local zoning authority to determine whether the cell tower is legally permitted on your neighbor’s property.

If cell phone towers can be built in the area where you live, the next question to look into is, did the owner obtain the necessary land-use approval? Did he comply with all federal and state regulations? Your local zoning authority is also a good resource for this type of information.

You’ll want to make one last inquiry if you and your neighbor live in a common interest development or subdivision with restrictive covenants (also referred to as CC&Rs). These covenants may prohibit cell tower construction, or may contain related prohibitions, to protect neighboring and nearby properties. For example, CC&Rs may limit use of property in a subdivision to residential use.

There are numerous laws, regulations, and ordinances that potentially apply to cell tower development, depending on which state you live in. To consider all possibilities, consider hiring an attorney.

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