Many prospective homebuyers are so busy worrying about their future home’s location, price, floor plan, condition, and amenities that they rarely prioritize things like covenants, conditions, and restrictions. However, that doesn’t mean that you can safely ignore them. If you’re considering purchasing a house or condo in a planned community, neighborhood, or “common interest” development, covenants and restrictions will likely govern your actions and limit your autonomy for the duration of your time in the home, so it’s wise to be aware of them and how they might impact you before you buy.
Covenants and Restrictions: What You Need to Know
What are covenants, conditions, and restrictions? As Redfin explains, these are rules and limits placed on a group of homes or condos by the developer, builder, homeowners association, or neighborhood association. Basically, the owner of an individual unit agrees to accept certain restrictions in order to live in the shared community. Prospective buyers may be able to get a complete list of the community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions if they request them. However, it’s more common for buyers to receive this information after they sign the initial purchase agreement.
How Do Covenants and Restrictions Compare to Zoning Laws and Bylaws?
While covenants, conditions, and restrictions are legal tools that govern the use of real property, they should not be mistaken for zoning laws or bylaws. What makes them different?
As The Balance points out, zoning laws are established and enforced by the government. In contrast, covenants and restrictions are contracts entered into voluntarily by private parties, and they’re often more limiting. Meanwhile, bylaws are a collection of rules created by a group or organization to provide a framework that guides their interactions and efforts. Breaking a bylaw may result in consequences that are generally established by the bylaws themselves. In contrast, violating a covenant may trigger issues of personal liability (source).
Examples of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions are intended to control the character of a property development for the comfort and benefit of current and future owners (source). They can include everything from aesthetic guidelines to restrictions on land use. Covenants, conditions, and restrictions can be precise or vague and set rules for many things that could conceivably impact the community and those who call it home. Items like the following are often regulated by covenants, conditions, and restrictions:
- Home maintenance standards
- Pet size, type, and number
- Yard maintenance standards
- Fencing, ornamentation, and color schemes
- Vehicle standards
- Land use standards
- Commercial or noxious activities
- Setbacks and new building
- Noise or light ordinances
- Dues and assessments
Details regarding rules and assessments are also often found in the document conveying the community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions. According to The Balance, this could include information about what dues are expected and how they are paid as well as facts about how assessments are handled. When a large, unplanned expense impacts the entire community, assessments are normally made to pay for it. The community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions documentation should provide an explanation of how special fees will be assessed and apportioned.
Potential Consequences of a Breach
What happens if you breach the rules laid out in the covenants, conditions, or restrictions? Nolo reports that you might find yourself facing fines, forced compliance, or the suspension of the privileges that allow you to use of community amenities. In some cases, the community could file a lien against your property or a lawsuit against you. If you disagree with the covenants or find that complying with them will create an unreasonable hardship, you can request a variance, which would give you special permission to be an exception to the established rule. If that fails, you may be out of luck. Changing the covenants, conditions, and restrictions that govern a community can be very difficult; some homeowners find relocating is a better choice for their well-being.