Neighbor's huge addition ruins our privacy

patrice607March 25, 2007

My backyard neighbor is up-hill from us. The houses are fairly close together 50-60 ft. The problem is he's planning to put on a second story addition with a bedroom balcony that will have a view of our entire yard and back half of the house. Ironically, we had just returned from a landscaping consultation to build a privacy berm to block out the current view. He has already erected 3 ramshackle structures - an above ground pond w/ a green plastic roof, a deck and a storage shed also with the lovely green roofs.) I almost cried when I heard about his 2nd story addition. Our suburb has a limit on fences - no more than 5 feet high. Outside of moving, do you have any suggestions???

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That is a drag. In our last house, we bought the property & the week we closed, we found out that the people behind us had just sold a small part of their lot to another neighbor's daughter to put one of those Home Depot kit houses (2 story things they usually have built in the parking lots for use as a shop or something) on. We would have paid double what she paid for the lot if we'd known it was for sale. They built that thing about 4 feet from the property line - unsightly where there had once been pretty trees. Then she put her ac unit on our side of her house - loud. Then she put her driveway on our side of her lot - great view from our bedroom of her cars. We planted a row of fast growing hollies to block things, but ended up moving in 6 years anyway. Luckily she was a nice neighbor, but still. Can you plant something really tall?

Here's our dilemna: our office is in an older building in an area where people have moved in & started lofting out. We have the corner building facing downtown. All are 1 story & both of our neighbors have put decks on the roof. We'd like to, but ours would block their views..... we've been hesitant to do it because I'd hate it if someone did that to us. I'm torn over what to do but they're in luck because we don't have the money to do it right now anyway.....

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 5:32PM
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Do you want my uncle Quidos number in Chicago? For a small fee he could probably persuade the neighbors not to follow thru with their expansion plans!!!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 10:48PM
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Do you have any recourse with the town prior to their being issued a permit? Considering the unslightly buildings he's already put up, its present devaluation of your property and now your possible privacy issues, I'd raise a stink and see if you can demand a planning board hearing or something.

That's what planning/zoning boards and regulations exist for, as much as we all have hated them when they aren't on our side, they do serve a purpose.

Also, I've never seen/heard of a H.D. House around here, the thought makes my head explode.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 11:12PM
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Guvnah -

Aren't neighbors great??? You have my sympathy!

I will be calling the zoning board Monday morning to find out if I have any recourse. I will also contact the landscaper and ask for her recs on fast growing shrubs but we are in need of 20 ft. I already have a 30 ft blue spruce in the yard next to the problem area. Wish I could just move it over 10 ft!

I've been surfing and found some canvas material that people use to keep out the sun. I remember seeing something on HGTV where they used a black fiber mesh like in tennis courts and tied it to two posts to block the view. I just have to be careful that the solution is not worse than the problem.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 12:11AM
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Our neighbor's houses tower above ours to the side and back. If we sit in our living room with the windows open, it feels like we are on exibit at the zoo.

Just today, dh planted some fast growing willows in strategic places along the edge of the fence. These things are supposed to grow several feet a year and we should have some major relief by this time next year. I think if you hurry, you still have time to order some fast growing trees from a nursery and have them in the ground this spring.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 12:22AM
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Google fast growing trees and start planting now.

I don't think there will be anything you can do about the type of structure that they will be able to build as long as it is within codes. And I am continually amazed by the monstrosities they allow people to build on the teeny "teardown" lots in this region. Like a 6000 SF house where a 1500SF house used to be.

There is usually a height restriction in the codes, and maybe you can have some input on that if you contact zoning.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 10:12AM
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Thanks. I'll start looking for fast growing trees. The problem is I already have a 35 ft. blue spruce to the right of the problem area and a huge maple in the middle of my yard which is to the left of the problem area. If I put more trees in, I'll have to take out some of what I have.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 11:13PM
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Leyland Cypress, find some about 10-15 feet hight/4-5 feet between spacing and watch them sky rocket at about 3 feet per year

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 1:40PM
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you don't want to remove the existing trees unless you put in somethign to replace them. believe me when i say you want a solid screen of trees there. not only will it give visual privacy, but it will help to dead sounds from the other yard as well. crowd them enough that that they grow together, but not so much that they smother each other.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 3:02PM
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I'm interested in the Leyland Cyprus. Does it looks like an arbor vitae? I'll check with our local suppliers. We currently have a tall hedge of honeysuckles that are about 8 feet high that will have to come out first. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 10:11PM
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Another vote for checking your town codes (you can walk into the town hall and ask for a copy of the codes, I've done it several times for rental properties). Also, in the town I live in, when a structure (new home, garage, addition) is being added, neighbors in the surrounding area are sent a certified letter from the town indicating what project has been applied for (through town permits), and a meeting is held and the letter states when the meeting will be so neighbors can voice concerns/object.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 7:40AM
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one local town actually makes you install a 3ftx6 ft sign in the front yard for 1 month prior to starting any addition to a house that will increase the square footage, or when requesting any zoning change/variance. if they see you doing the work without the sign up, they shut you down and have been known to classify a house as unlivable so that the owners had to move out until they got everything straight. this of course is usually reserved for repeat offenders.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 10:48AM
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Don't forget to use evergreens! Leyland cypress is fine, though sometimes susceptible to disease. Also, look at Cryptomeria Japonica. Even Magnolia would make a nice screen, if you are far enough south. Slower growth though.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 1:22PM
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Magnolia would be lovely but I live in the Chicago area.

What zone for the Crytomeria Japonica?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2007 at 11:57PM
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Looks like zone 6-9
I am in Z7 and have planted it for a windbreak. Mine did turn bronze over the winter but is sure perking up now. Checkout this site

    Bookmark   March 29, 2007 at 11:58AM
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We put some large Leland Cypress in a couple years ago. They need to be planted pretty close for fullness at top and privacy (you could always cut every other one as they fill in). Ours certainly aren't giving us privacy yet, but they are beginning to hide the house from an angle. They are not like an arborvida (spelling?) it is a tree that grows rather slim and upright. It is our understanding you can prune them, but I am thinking it might be quite a job. We'll let the neighbor do that on their side :-)

We have an older established laurel hedge behind us and that thing grows like a weed and is very full. It is a pain to take care of and when it gets too high you can't trim it. Fortunately space isn't an issue for us.

We also considered Bamboo in the area we put cypress.

Good luck, I feel your pain. We lived in the country until they put in sub divisions next to our property with two story houses. I miss the cows!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 2:12PM
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Just a reminder - any canvas or shadecloth that you put up will keep sun from any plants/trees below it.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 5:35AM
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I thought , well, at least where I use tolive, you were allowed a privacy fence higher then 5 ft as long as you get a permit for it. When I had long fence come , they told me they would take care of the permit for it and all. Put Big trees there.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 12:18AM
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patrice607, did the neighbor already get zoning and city council approval for this addition? He might not get it if a structural engineer doesn't say the foundation can handle a second floor.

As for plantings here in Chicago and fast privacy, plant forsythia bushes. They have pretty yellow flowers in the spring and are a nice bush the rest of the year. If a friend has one, when he trims take a few of the branches and put them into water until they start to grow roots then plant them and keep the babies watered. Once they get established the darn things need to be trimmed at least once a month to keep them at a manageable height.

My last forsythia experience, was four bushes. When I moved in the longest they could have lived was 10 years. Once a month I had to take the ladder out and trim them. I loved their flowering but one spring after they flowered, I had a new grand baby to dote over so I said forget this and cut them to the ground.

They were 6 feet tall again by fall and the next spring, because the buds were all on new growth they were gorgeous.

After that, other than cutting the side next to the sidewalk back monthly, and pruning out old dead branches from the middle I let them go. When I moved 7 years after I cut them to the ground, my best guess is they were probably about 15 feet tall and gorgeous.

They don't spread out they spread up, really, really fast.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 4:14PM
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gammyt -

I already have a forsythia hedge that's about 8 feet tall. It is fine for now but with the second story addition, I will need a hedge that's twice as tall. We've had these bushes for 24 years and need to keep topping them off so they won't get leggy. If we don't cut them back we have all the leaves at the top and the bottoms are very see-through.

Lucy -

Yes, the shade is a consideration. We already have too much shade.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 10:12PM
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Being in the Chicago area, your climate may be too cold for Leyland Cypress. They are only hardy to zone 6 and you may be in zone 5. That's a shame, because they might be a great solution to your problem. They are extremely fast growing, but that advantage also has a downside - they take a LOT of work (once a year) to keep them at the size you want.

Below is a picture of my hedge. I keep them at about 15 feet high. They give us absolute privacy from the neighbors. You may notice in the picture why that's important :-)


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 7:48PM
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Joe -

The hedge is fabulous! Is that Leyland Cyprus? It looks like you're also in Zone 5. Are you further south?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 10:50PM
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The hedge is fantastic and nice and thick. I imagine you do need the privacy from neighbors that might be peeking at the
outdoor activities. Unless my eyes are deceiving me, swim suits are optional?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 9:55PM
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Yes, my hedge is Leyland Cypress. I put it in 10 years ago.

My profile does say I'm in zone 5, but I'm actually in zone 6. I should correct it, but I've been procrastinating for 6 or 7 years now. I used to manually change it when I post something, but I don't see that option any more. I am at the northern edge of zone 6. I can see zone 5 from my roof.

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you - swimsuits are indeed optional. To be honest, I'd rather not swim if I have to wear a suit.

It's a good thing the Cypresses are nice and thick - I have a "Gladys Kravitz" on the the East side of me. :-)


    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 9:55PM
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Beth Parsons


LOVE IT!!! Our last house was in a very private setting backing up to a thickly wooded area and surrounded by pasture on the sides. We absolutely loved swimming in our birthday suits. It took me a loooong time to try it, but once I did, there was no going back!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 4:08PM
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Awesome hedges!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 6:42PM
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Update on the neighbor's plan

The building inspector visited them and due to the fact that more than 25 percent of their yard is covered with auxialiary structures, they denied the permit. (yeah!) He has now taken down a few of the other structures and is going ahead with the 2nd story addition - without the 2nd story deck.

I'm still looking for a nice fast growing hedge that thrives in zone 5 but I delayed planting due to the 17 year locust which have visited this year.

Thanks for all the input!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2007 at 5:05PM
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---- "LOVE IT!!! Our last house was in a very private setting backing up to a thickly wooded area and surrounded by pasture on the sides. We absolutely loved swimming in our birthday suits. It took me a loooong time to try it, but once I did, there was no going back!"

Isn't that the truth Parsonse?! Many people are offended by just the thought of someone swimming nude, but if they gave it a try, just once or twice, there would be a lot of converts for sure. You know, I'm half considering posting an informal skinny dipping poll on the Pool & Spa board, but I'm afraid of the flack I would probably get.

---- "Awesome hedges!"

Thanks Dreamgarden. You just gave me the motivation to continue with the topping and shearing that I started nearly two months ago. I didn't get much further since this picture was taken back in mid-May:


I'm glad to hear that you have some semi-good news about your situation with the neighbor.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 12:31AM
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I didn't read all the responses, so forgive me if I'm repeating -- your best bet is Green Giant Thuja (arborvitae). It's the fastest, best coverage out there. Buy them as large as possible, and if you can, have them planted for you with a guarantee. Consider how it will increase your property value (the cost will be well worth it!). Use evergreens -- don't bother with deciduous trees like willows as you'll lose your privacy in the cold weather months when trees drop their leaves.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 2:16PM
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Really you need to go to a good nursery or call your extension agent and find out what will grow well for you in your spot. Its very hard to determine from 1000 miles away.
If high fences are against rules - how about "art"? Can you put up, say a line of really tall bamboo with wide waterproof streamers? Or something along those lines. Get an actual "artist" to design it, sign and date the drawing.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 12:33PM
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I just back from trip (around a month) last nite, when i wake up this morning, i see the whole 2 story building with 4 huge window seeing though my master bedroom. I cant even open the window and sliding door because the window looks into my master bedroom clearly. I know they are building additional but didnt know they are building two story with 4 huge window.
they are still in process of construction. what can i do? can i ask them to plant the big tree either on my or their side as a blocking wall? if they have no more room to plant tree, should I ask them to pay for the plant on my side??
i am so sad about this, my master bedroom was very private and now became public. i cant even imagine i cant even open the window when i sleep. they can just look into my room clearly? what can i do?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 9:18PM
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Close your drapes or plant your own trees.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:33AM
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