Tree-planting in Tahoe Keys property prompts lawsuit
In a landscape rich with scenic views, having a home with a view increases property value. But when the view is accessible only through another’s property, is it protected? Eight Tahoe Keys homeowners believe that in their neighborhood it is, and they are fighting to protect their window on the lake.
According to a lawsuit filed last month in El Dorado County Superior Court, it all started in September 1998 when a new neighbor decided to plant some trees. The Pai family, residents of Hillsborough, an affluent area in the South Bay peninsula of San Francisco, bought their vacation home in August 1998. In the relatively upper-end neighborhood of the Tahoe Keys, Lighthouse Shores is the top of the social scale. The small, gated community sets on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and house prices range into the millions.
But along with the benefits and privileges come rules. Every property owner is subject to the rules established by the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association and its Architectural Control Committee.
After moving into their new vacation home, No. 14 Lighthouse Shores, Chung Ruei Pai and his wife, Josetta, broke a cardinal rule of the Keys. They broke ground without informing the committee.
The action alarmed the Pais’ neighbors across the lagoon on Aloha Drive. Donald and Mary Cantrell, Roy and Ruth Priem, Donald and Nora Alvord, and Roger Bush had enjoyed views of the lake through the Pai’s 30-foot side lot. David Price, another resident of Aloha Drive, also joined his neighbors’ ranks. His view wasn’t in jeopardy, but he had defended the right to a view before, when his property was threatened.
The Pais attempted to get a plan that included five junipers approved several times with no success. The Architectural Control Committee continually denied the request stating the trees would obstruct views of Lake Tahoe from the Aloha Drive residences. The trees were expected to top out at 16 feet.
Timothy Hodgson, attorney for Aloha residents, said the Tahoe Key Property Owners Association board of directors took jurisdiction of the matter without authority and ordered the approval of the Pais’ landscaping application. Hodgson said even with the board of directors’ order, the committee still did not change its final denial.
On May 7 the board met in closed session, and the following day the Pais’ landscaping application received the committee’s stamp of approval and was signed by the committee’s administrator. The question asking if the trees planted would affect views of neighbors was left unanswered on the stamped copy. By May 10, four of the five approved trees were in the ground.
“The Architectural Control Committee never voted to approve Pai’s application. The board took the stamp and approved it without a vote,” Hodgson said. “When you buy land that has recorded declarations, it is part of the property. Protection of views have been a right for 20 years in the Tahoe Keys. The board essentially threw out the owners’ right to a view. Now, theoretically, anybody could plant anything, anywhere they want.”
The lawsuit names not only the Pais, but also the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association and the Architectural Control Committee. Deborah Simonetti, acting general manager of the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association, refused to comment on the lawsuit or the homeowners’ complaints. The Pais could not be reached for comment. The two sides will first meet in court Aug. 6.
Hodgson estimates that his clients’ collective property value has been damaged by the trees by at least $350,000.
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