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Voluntary Neighborhood Covenants

Homeowners in common interest communities may be subject to a declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). These are rules on how homeowners may use both their property and the commonly shared amenities of the neighborhood. CC&Rs are created by the plat developer before a single unit is even sold. But sometimes, property owners will decide to establish their own voluntary restrictive covenants for similar reasons. Although subject to revision by a homeowners association (HOA) board of directors, home buyers often appreciate these rules. CC&Rs generally discourage actions that degrade the value of the homes.

This article is about voluntary neighborhood covenants, not to be confused with:

Why Planned Communities Adopt Covenants

Real property owners may have personal real estate that isn't part of any organized association. Without an association or governing documents, such homes may not be subject to any CC&Rs. But often, homeowners in planned developments will voluntarily form an association with its own bylaws and different types of covenants. This is done to promote the maintenance or enhancement of their property values.

In forming a group united by concerns that other homeowners may share, the homeowners will draft binding covenants on all homeowners within a geographically defined area. For example, covenants can be adopted through cooperative or condominium associations. Some benefits of covenants include:

  • Maintenance of common areas like swimming pools, hallways, stairways, and elevators
  • Punishment for homeowners who commit an alleged violation against other neighbors
  • Promotion of good aesthetics, including paint colors and landscaping
  • Legal assurances that members will pay assessments for community maintenance

How Voluntary Covenants May Be Challenged

A voluntary covenant can be difficult to create or enforce for two reasons:

  1. A single homeowner may hold back consent or refuse to join the association. This can prevent the formation of binding covenants.
  2. Because such covenants were formed after the fact of purchase, they are not "deed restrictions." That means they won't run with the land; they are voluntary commitments among current owners. So, the sale of a single property to a subsequent purchaser can end the covenants for all properties.

Still, a group of residents may voluntarily agree to adopt permanent covenants. They may choose to have them subsequently added to their property descriptions and deeds. This often occurs when concerned about future owners. If a current resident sells their home, the remaining residents may be adversely affected by what a subsequent purchaser will do with or to the property.

Problematic Covenant? A Lawyer Can Help

Voluntary neighborhood covenants can't violate state law or federal law. For example, a racist covenant that violates the Fair Housing Act or Supreme Court ruling may be the subject of legal action. If you're facing challenges with your neighborhood's legal documents, you may need the help of a legal expert. Instead of relying on your realtor alone, consider consulting with a real estate attorney.

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