Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions ("CC&Rs") are governing documents. Many "common interest" developments, including condominiums, neighborhoods, and co-ops, use them. They regulate the use, appearance, and maintenance of property.
CC&Rs are commonly drafted and enforced through homeowners' associations (HOAs). They often restrict what homeowners can do on their property. For example, some CC&Rs:
- Regulate landscaping in common areas
- Don't allow homeowners to hang their laundry out to dry
- Set lawn maintenance standards
- Limit paint colors and ban certain home additions or major changes.
This section provides practical and legal information on CC&Rs to help you understand what you can and can't do with a property.
What Is a Covenant?
In the context of residential neighborhoods, a "covenant" is a rule that governs the use of real property. It also refers to an agreement to abide by rules. The more inclusive term, "covenants, conditions, and restrictions" (or CC&Rs), is typically used in real estate documents.
Legally, a properly recorded covenant (technically, a "restrictive covenant") is:
Sometimes, covenants are not part of a recorded declaration of conditions and restrictions. Instead, property owners who are neighbors sign them. In this case, they are still binding, and those who breach them may face litigation.
To ensure a certain level of order and uniformity, covenants are most often used in planned communities such as:
- Common interest developments
- Gated communities
- Housing cooperatives
The standards enforced through covenants often help the homes in the neighborhood keep their property value. This is because they encourage homebuyers to keep their properties well-maintained. Homeowners often welcome these standards since they typically address things like:
- Excessive noise
- Lawn maintenance
- Other things that impact homeownership quality of life
An association's board of directors can issue notifications to homeowners to enforce CC&Rs and bylaws.
If you are subject to covenants or CC&Rs, your HOA or neighbor association will also have procedures in place for:
- How to enforce these rules
- Accommodate exemptions
Typically, a violation will result in a warning (via a written notice to the homeowner) or a fine. But if an alleged breach doesn't get resolved, the association may bring legal action against a homeowner. Courts must ensure that there is a binding contract among the parties before they will get involved.
If deed restrictions violate state law, a court will reject the property management's attempt to enforce them. For example, the law might limit the amount of a special assessment fee. An HOA might try to enforce an oversized fee illegally against a single-family property. Here, a court will disallow enforcement of a fee that violates the law.
Sometimes, asking the association for an exemption to, or "variance" from, an existing covenant is reasonable. A variance is official permission to stray from the requirements of the covenant. It is typically granted when enforcement would cause undue hardship for the homeowner. For instance, a vision-impaired resident may need extra outdoor lighting that exceeds the covenant allows.
Association hearings deal with requests for variances. Other residents get notices so they can challenge requests. For example, a neighbor adversely affected by extra outdoor lighting may wish to voice concern.
The view from the property is often a factor in its value. For instance, a home offering views of a tree-lined valley will have more value than the same home with a view of a power plant. So, neighborhoods with CC&Rs sometimes address this by restricting the location and size of:
- Other possible obstructions
If you have a question about your property's covenant, condition, or restriction, get legal advice from a real estate attorney.
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