TC Palm Q&A Column, June 3, 2018

By June 3, 2018News, Questions & Answers

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, respond to questions about Florida community association law.  The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, estate planning and commercial transactions.

Q: I have a question on condominium water views.  I have a waterfront condo on the 5th floor.  Eight years ago, there was a view.  The condo next door has a large bay tree that was planted to buffer the two properties but serves no other purpose.  Now the bay tree has grown to over 70′ and blocks my front view of everything.  Do I have a right to ask them to trim the tree back?

-R.R., Juno Beach

A: While this is a common problem in Florida, generally, there is no right to a view.   The law provides that a landowner simply does not have a legal right to the free flow of light and air across the adjoining land of his neighbor.  There is a famous case that you might have heard about regarding a dispute between the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels in Miami Beach (Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. v. Fort-Five Twenty-Five, Inc. 114 So.2d 357) that can be applied to the issue that you are dealing with.  The Eden Roc was built just a few years after the Fontainebleau by a former business partner of the Fontainebleau’s original owner, Ben Novack.  The goal of the Eden Roc’s owner, Morris Lansburgh, was to create a luxury hotel that would rival the Fontainebleau. To that end, the Eden Roc actually poached Novack’s architect to design the new hotel.  In response to this personal affront, Novack, built a massive wing onto the Fontainebleau the became known as the “Spite Wall.” This tower was allegedly created to shroud the neighboring Eden Roc Hotel’s pool in darkness, rendering it unusable.  This, of course, led a lawsuit by the Eden Roc over the fact that not only did the Fontainebleau addition block the sun from the pool, but that it was built purely out of spite. The Court held that where a structure serves a useful and beneficial purpose, it does not give rise to a cause of action, even if it causes injury to another by cutting off the light and air and interfering with the view that would otherwise be available over adjoining land in its natural state, regardless of the fact that the structure may have been erected partly for spite.  Based upon your question, it appears that the tree sits on common property of the condominium. You can certainly ask the Association to trim it back, but you should not attempt to cut back the tree on your own or your risk opening yourself up to potential legal issue with the Association. I would advise you to speak to an experienced attorney about your specific issue, so that they can take a look at your association documents in order to advise you specifically what your rights are at the condominium.

Q: Currently, my home is for sale.  While waiting for my agent, for a showing, one of my neighbors started talking to the prospective buyer telling him how “BAD” our homes are, that the developer was terrible, that they were poorly built homes and not worth the money, and that this buyer should not buy or live here.  Can I sue this neighbor, either for slander or because I believe that he was saying these things because the protective buyer was of color?

-N.G., Stuart

A:  Based upon the set of facts that you provided, it does not appear that you would have a cause of action against your neighbor, at least not as it relates to slander.  The fact of the matter is that your neighbor did not slander you, although he or she may have slandered the builder/developer. Also, even though you believe that the comments may have been made for a nefarious purpose (i.e., the prospective buyer was a person of color), there is no cause of action that you would have for that sort of abhorrent behavior.  That being said, you may have a claim against your neighbor for what is known as “tortious interference with a business relationship.” This is a legal claim that someone did something with the intent to damage someone else’s contractual or business relationships with a third party that causes them economic harm. You would have to show that the neighbor had that intent and that you were harmed (meaning that you lost the sale due to the interference).  You may not have enough to proceed under that legal theory, but if the behavior continues, I would recommend that you discuss the matter further with an attorney to see if you have any potential claims available to you.

Harris B. Katz, Esq., is Managing Partner, Boca Raton of the Law Firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC.  Ask questions about your issues for future columns, send your inquiry to: question@gadclaw.com. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross or any of our attorneys.  Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein.  The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.