Janis Peterson, GRI, ABR, CSP Realtor®
Philadelphia Main Line Homes and Real Estate
Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties
Homebuyers, especially first-timers, may not think of asking about restrictive covenants. But these clauses dictate what can and cannot be done to or on a property. When buyers purchase property governed by restrictive covenants, they consent to conduct their lives in accordance with 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.
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.
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