If a McMansion is built next to existing houses, what can neighbors do?
“It’s built so much higher than my house, virtually every window looks out into my backyard,” she says. Desperate to protect her privacy, she planted Italian cypress trees as a natural barrier. She tried to reason with the builder, whose unsympathetic response was: “Shouldn’t everyone be able to build their dream home?”
What’s going on in Mountain View is an extreme version of a problem cropping up all over the country: Huge houses are being built on plots of land originally meant to accommodate smaller dwellings, sparking a heated debate over what’s best for the community. Some argue that owners of larger homes pay more taxes, which can benefit all. But if your home happens to have its air and light blocked by a behemoth next door, you would likely be very, very upset — and can most likely kiss the idea of cashing out on your home sale goodbye…
A similar drama is playing out in Arcadia, CA, where more than 30 homes larger than 5,000 square feet (some as large as 8,000 — 9,000) have been proposed in the 850-home community over the past six years. In response, a group of longtime residents formed Saving Arcadia, which is currently battling the municipal government and City Council. Its argument: Overly lenient rules for developers have led to the proliferation of McMansions on lots that were zoned back in the 1950s for smaller homes. Plus, these oversize dwellings overburden the city’s water, gas, electricity, and other utility services…
Another option is finding a creative solution. One example is building downward (if a property is set on a hill) in order to increase square footage while preserving neighboring views, which is increasingly happening in various areas near Newport Beach. So maybe there’s hope that we can all play nice after all?
A homeowner who doesn’t like the nearby McMansion has a number of options available to them – these are sorted roughly in order of severity:
- Talk to the neighbor and builder. Might they be willing to make changes? They don’t have to but perhaps they are also unaware of what neighbors think of their actions.
- Modify your own lot or house to avoid having to see the new dwelling (if this is possible given its new size). For example, buy some artificial plants.
- Fight for local regulations. Many communities (see examples like Austin and Los Angeles) have considered rules about teardowns in recent decades and try to balance the interests of property owners versus those of neighborhoods. A variety of tools can be used including design guidelines, lot to house size ratios, approval processes, and historic districts.
- Buy up the properties that may become McMansions. This requires money but then you can control the fate of the nearby properties. See examples here and here.
- Sue your neighbor. You have to have resources to fight this out and it is likely to sour relations for a long time. But, some neighbors choose this option. See an example here.
- Move away. This is what the resident in this particular article does. This may be a last resort option or one favorable to those who don’t like open conflict (which is often minimized in suburbia).
In many places, the teardown McMansion cannot be stopped, particularly if there are not existing guidelines which are likely based off earlier cases or if the neighbor is not independently wealthy. Still, the neighbor who does not like it can pursue a number of options and each is likely to affect their relationship with the teardown neighbor.
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