Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions (also called "CC&Rs") are used by many "common interest" developments, including condominiums and co-ops, to regulate the use, appearance, and maintenance of property. CC&Rs, most commonly drafted and enforced through homeowners' associations (HOAs), often restrict what homeowners can do on their property. For example, some CC&Rs do not allow homeowners to hang their laundry out to dry, set lawn maintenance standards, or prohibit home additions or major changes. This section provides practical and legal information on CC&Rs to help you understand what you can and cannot do with a given property.
What is a Covenant?
In the context of residential neighborhoods, a "covenant" is rule that governs the use of real property, also referring to an agreement to abide by these rules. Legally, a properly recorded covenant (technically, a "restrictive deed covenant") is binding and enforceable. Even when covenants are not part of the contract and are instead signed among neighbors (such as a mutual compact), they are binding and may be litigated if breached.
Covenants are most often used by planned developments such as gated communities, condominiums, and housing cooperatives to ensure a certain level of order and uniformity. The standards enforced through covenants often help the homes in the neighborhood retain their value because they tend to look much nicer and better maintained. Homeowners often welcome these standards since they typically address things like excessive noise, lawn maintenance, and other things that impact quality of life.
The more inclusive term "covenants, conditions, and restrictions" (or CC&Rs) is typically used in real estate documents and HOA correspondence.
If you are subject to covenants, or CC&Rs, your HOA or neighbor association also will have procedures in place for how to enforce these rules or accommodate exemptions. Typically, a violation will result in either a warning (via a written notice to the homeowner) or a fine. But if an alleged violation is not resolved, the association (usually an HOA) may bring legal action against the homeowner. Courts must ensure that there is a binding contract among the parties before they will get involved.
In some instances, it may be reasonable to ask the association for an exemption to, or "variance" from, an existing covenant. A variance is official permission to stray from the literal requirements of the covenant, typically granted in situations where literal enforcement would cause undue hardship for the homeowner. For instance, a vision-impaired resident may need extra outdoor lighting that exceeds what is allowed by the covenant.
Requests for variances usually are handled through association hearings, while a notice of the request is often sent to the other residents.
The value of a property often is determined by the view it offers its residents. For instance, a home offering views of a tree-lined valley will be valued more than the same home with a view of a power plant. Therefore, neighborhoods with CC&Rs sometimes address this by restricting the location and size of fences, trees, buildings, and other possible obstructions.
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