Before You Buy Check for Restrictive Covenants


You’ve just toured the home of your dreams and are ready to make an offer. You can already envision upgrades you would like make: a pool in the back yard, window shutters and a black picket fence to match. You’re even excited that your boat will fit in the driveway. Yet, what you may not be aware of is that there are restrictions that dictate what can and cannot be done to or on the property.

Homebuyers, especially first-timers, may not think of asking about restrictive covenants, yet when you purchase images12property governed by restrictive covenants, you are consenting to abide by those provisions.

A restrictive covenant, which is a type of deed restriction, regulates a group of new and existing homes or building lots. Developers use them to preserve a development or subdivision as a model community and control its use and appearance. Buyers agree to the sometimes-rigid restrictions in order to maintain the aesthetic standard set by the developer and to safeguard the value of their homes.

Restrictive covenants should not be confused with local zoning and government regulations. Some covenants and zoning regulations overlap; for instance, either can limit the height of a building. But, restrictive covenants tend to exert greater control over a homeowner’s lifestyle. In addition to standard clauses, which may stipulate a home’s minimum size, height, architectural style, and color schemes, covenants often ban practices that could be regarded as aesthetically objectionable–such as parking RVs, boats and non-running vehicles on the property.

Covenants may additionally regulate grass height; window treatments; holiday decorations; walls, fences and hedges; as well as pets–some limit number and type of pets allowed. Very often, owners are required to make repairs within a specified number of days of the initial notification. Depending on a community’s location and other unique features, restrictions may be applied to the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and removal of dirt and trees. Owners can be prohibited from installing solar panels, building an enclosed patio or adding a swimming pool. Restrictive covenants can also prevent owners from renting the home or operating a home business, including music lessons and daycare. Condo and townhouse owners sometimes face even more rigid restrictions.

What happens when a violation occurs? It’s up to the homeowner’s association or individual property owners to enforce a covenant. Local authorities cannot enforce contractual agreements. Instead, it’s likely that a committee would review the complaint, then notify the homeowner. If the homeowner ignores the initial notice, he or she might receive a notice from an attorney. Legal action would be a last resort.images11

Before You Buy

While most homeowners enjoy the quality of life resulting from restrictive covenants, some covenants may prevent you from living the life you planned. Before committing yourself to a property, be certain you can live with all the restrictions.

  • Ask to see a copy of the restrictive covenants prior to taking a trip out to a property. You may be able to eliminate the house from your “To See” list.
  • If the sales professional didn’t have the document available initially, be certain to review a copy of the restrictive covenants prior to making an offer.
  • Or, make your offer contingent on your review and approval of the restrictive covenants.

 Brandi Wells can be reached at (404-402-1489). Prudential Colony Realty is an independently owned and operated member of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., a Prudential Financial company. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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