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What To Ask Before Buying a Home With a Restrictive Covenant

restrictive covenant is an agreement, usually outlined in a property's deed, limiting how you can use your real property. It's part of a declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (or CC&Rs). Restrictive covenants are common when you purchase a condominium. They're generally designed to maintain property values and strengthen a community.

Even if a particular covenant seems odd, by signing the deed, you contractually agree to abide by the rules. Examples of restrictive covenants include things like required color schemes or prohibitions against vegetable gardens. Such covenants may also be used between neighbors or among a small number of property owners. For instance, a home with a lake view may be restricted by how high the owners may build. Adding another story or a higher roof may be prohibited if it blocks another neighbor's view.

This article provides questions to consider as a homebuyer before purchasing a property with restrictive covenants. It addresses disclaimers regarding changing a home's appearance or completing renovations. It also discusses how covenants might affect yard use or lifestyle choices.

How Much Do You Want To Change the Home's Appearance?

For most people, a home is the biggest purchase of their lives. Ensure you know the parameters of any restrictive covenants (or any other CC&Rs) before making that investment. Ask your realtor to obtain all relevant documents for review. Like local ordinances or zoning laws, deed restrictions can affect things like a home's appearance. Below are questions to consider:

  • Are you restricted in the types of materials you may use to build a fence, chimney, addition, outbuilding, or roof?
  • Are there limits on what exterior paint colors you're allowed to use?
  • Are you prohibited from erecting signs in your yard, or are signs allowed within specific size and subject restrictions?

What Renovations Might You Want to Complete?

When considering purchasing a house with restrictive covenants, it's crucial to consider what renovations you want to complete in the future. Below are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Must you submit building plans to your municipality or development association for approval before you build?
  • Is there a height limitation imposed on your property to protect your neighbors' views?
  • Do you need a permit before you re-roof or build an addition?
  • If you want to install a swimming pool, can you put it in-ground versus above-ground? If it's an above-ground pool, are you required to surround it with a particular type of fence?
  • Is there a start-to-finish limit on the length of time for your construction project?

How Will Any Covenants Affect Your Yard?

Another important consideration concerning restrictive covenants is whether and how they'll affect the use of your yard. Consider the questions below:

  • Does a covenant restrict your right to cut down trees in your yard?
  • Are you allowed to dig a well for irrigation purposes?
  • Are you allowed to have a clothesline?
  • Are you prohibited from storing "junk" in your yard? What's considered "junk"?
  • Are you responsible for controlling weeds, mowing your lawn, and landscaping according to specific standards?
  • Are you prohibited from raising livestock like chickens?

How Will Any Covenants Affect Your Lifestyle Choices?

Restrictive covenants can also impact your personal lifestyle choices. Get answers to the questions below before purchasing a home with restrictive covenants:

  • Is a daycare allowed on the premises? Are there restrictions regarding swing sets or other children's play equipment?
  • Is there a restriction regarding the installation of air conditioning units?
  • How many cats or dogs is too many? Are you allowed to keep types of animals other than cats and dogs?
  • Is your home office allowed? Are there restrictions about the type of business you may conduct?
  • Is there a prohibition against storing motor vehicles on your property?
  • Is there a restriction governing antennas and satellite dishes?
  • What kind of outside window treatments are permitted or prohibited?
  • Are there any utility or maintenance assessments charged to your property?
  • What does your deed say about driveways, garages, and parking spaces?

What Are Your Future Plans for the Property?

Beyond your present intentions for how you envision using a property with restrictive covenants, you'll also want to consider your future intentions. Ask yourself the following questions to ensure the property usage meets your long-term needs:

  • Do you plan to rent out the property? If so, are there occupancy restrictions?
  • Will the property be used as an investment property?
  • Is this your "forever" home?
  • Do you plan to raise kids in this home?
  • Do you intend to host parties and events?

Keep in mind that restrictive covenants cannot violate fair housing laws. For example, a restriction discriminating against national origin would be unenforceable.

Related Resources

Click on any of the links below to learn more about resources related to house covenants.

Get a Free Legal Evaluation of Your Restrictive Covenant Concerns

When you buy a new property, you may also be inheriting all types of restrictive covenants affecting your use of the property. These restrictive covenant agreements are often made in connection with a homeowners' association (HOA) or as part of another legal document meant to ensure relative harmony in a shared location or planned community.

If you have more questions about your rights and obligations concerning restrictive covenants as a potential buyer, contact a local real estate attorney. A lawyer can also help you take legal action to enforce penalties for a neighbor's violation of a restrictive covenant.

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