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If you’re buying a home, or vacant land on which you plan to build one, then deed restrictions should be on your radar. These regulations restrict the way land can be used, as well as what you can build on it and what activities you can partake in while on the premises.
Deed restrictions typically stem from homeowners’ associations or historical agreements between neighbors or community members. But regardless of their source, they can dictate your home’s height and size, what colors and construction materials can be used, even what vehicles and pets you’re allowed to have, plus a whole lot more.
Before purchasing a home, it’s important to know what deed restrictions you might be up against. If you violate the restrictions, you could owe a fee, monetary damages or potentially be held liable in court.
How to find deed restrictions on a property
If you want to uncover any possible deed restrictions on a property or lot you’re considering buying, try reaching out to one of the following:
- Your real estate agent: They can pull property records and search for any deed restrictions that have been noted in previous listings.
- The builder or developer: If the property is in a planned community, the developer or builder likely has access to any deed restrictions pertaining to the home.
- Your local clerk’s office: The county or municipal clerk can pull historical property records to look for any restrictions. You may be able to search public property records on the clerk’s website as well. The local planning department that initially approved the community’s development may also have the information.
- Your title company: Deed restrictions often come up during title searches, though not all title companies will disclose them — particularly if they’re older. You may need to specifically request a search for deed restrictions.
- Your HOA board: If your home is governed by a homeowner’s association, it’s probably part of a deed-restricted community. In that case, you can contact the HOA to ask what they know about any deed restrictions pertaining to your property)
Deed restrictions vs. HOA rules
Both deed restrictions and HOA rules can dictate the use of your property. The main difference is that deed restrictions are attached to the land itself, while HOA rules pertain to the property’s location within a certain community.
Another difference is their tenure. Deed restrictions may expire after a certain time period or need judicial proceedings in order to change. HOA rules, on the other hand, can be changed with a simple vote from the HOA board. Thus, HOA rules tend to evolve over time more than deed restrictions do.
At the end of the day, a property can be subject to both deed restrictions and HOA rules simultaneously (and in the suburbs, they often are). Always read your HOA documents carefully.
Common types of deed restrictions
The list of possible deed restrictions you might encounter is long and extensive. These can regulate just about anything on your property, including the structures, age limits and number of occupants, and activities going on there. Here are some of the most common deed restrictions homeowners deal with:
- Structure and foliage height: Many deed restrictions will forbid you from obstructing a neighbor’s view by planting too-tall trees or adding an extra story to your house.
- Size of the home: Deed restrictions often limit the number of bedrooms and amount of square footage you can have. This is usually to prevent overwhelming local sewage capacity.
- Vehicles on the property: You might only be allowed a certain number of vehicles, or they might need to be of a certain type or condition (i.e., no boats, commercial vehicles, etc.).
- Fences: Deed restrictions often dictate the type of fences allowed (no chain-link ones, for example), as well as how high fencing can go.
- Animals: You may only be allowed certain types or breeds of pets on your property. Many deed restrictions prohibit livestock and wild animals as well.
- Structures and installations: A deed restriction might regulate what additional structures you can add to the property, such as garages or garden sheds, and in which locations. They might also impact amenities like pools, gazebos, basketball hoops or hot tubs.
- Property use: Certain activities and businesses are often barred via deed restriction. This is usually to prevent additional traffic in a residential area.
- Colors and materials: This is more common in HOA rules, but some deed restrictions may limit the colors and types of materials you can use on the exterior of your home. This is usually to keep a consistent look throughout the community and to help maintain home values.
Can deed restrictions be changed?
How can deed restrictions be changed or removed? They are harder to change than HOA rules, but it’s not impossible. If you’ve already purchased a home, there may come a time when you want to fight a deed restriction in order to make a change on your property. If you’re considering a house with a deed restriction, you may be able to get the restriction removed before making your purchase.
Here’s what the process looks like:
- Get a copy of the covenant detailing the deed restriction: You’ll need to go to the courthouse or your county clerk’s office for this.
- Read the covenant for details: Many times, there will be an expiration date or, at the very least, information on how the restriction can be altered or removed.
- Contact the governing body: If the restriction was set by the city, a community association or an HOA, reach out to the organization directly. You may be able to get around certain restrictions as long as you have pre-approval. (You might need approval from your neighbors, too.)
- Get consent: If there’s not a governing body and the deed restriction is instead with a neighbor or another party, you’ll need to get their consent for release from the agreement. This usually happens via a form called a Restriction Release. Once everyone has signed the Restriction Release, you can file a copy with the county. You might need a notary to make it official.
- Take it to court: If it seems as if the deed restriction is no longer applicable, discriminatory, illegal or irrelevant to current conditions (in other words, really outdated), a judge may be willing to void it.
Understanding what deed restrictions are in place is critical if you’re considering buying a home or piece of land. These restrictions truly run the gamut, and they can severely limit the options you have on a property. If you’re unable to remove a deed restriction, make sure you think long and hard about purchasing the property. Are you willing to abide by the restrictions, or would another property be a better option?
Deed restrictions are regulations that are attached to a property, lot or community. They outline what you can and can’t do with the space, including what you can build on the land and how it can be used.
Removing deed restrictions is not easy, but it’s possible. You’ll need to get consent, either from the governing body that set them — your city or HOA, for example — or from the other parties involved in the restriction, like neighbors. Removing them may involve filing paperwork with the county clerk or even presenting it to a judge. A real estate attorney will be able to help you navigate the process, if necessary.
No. Deed restrictions pertain to the land and require judicial proceedings to be changed, so they don’t evolve much over time. On the other hand, HOA rules apply to a specific community and can be changed with a simple vote from the HOA board.