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Things You Should Know Before Purchasing A Deed-Restricted House

6-minute read

September 17, 2020


A deed restriction is a limitation on how you can use your property. Deed restrictions can limit what you do on your property as well as what you can build on your land. They often involve a homeowners association. HOAs institute these standards to keep property values high. Violating the deed restriction may mean you face everything from a fine to foreclosure, depending on the severity of the violation.

We’ll introduce you to some of the most common deed restrictions and what it might mean for you if you buy a home with one.

What Are Common Deed Restrictions?

Here are some of the most common deed restrictions you might see on a property:

  • Vehicle restrictions: Your HOA might limit the number or type of vehicles you can have on your property. Motor homes, boats and travel trailers are all commonly banned vehicles. This restriction helps conserve street parking and keep homes from looking too cluttered.
  • Pet and animal restrictions: HOAs commonly use deed restrictions to limit the type of animals you can keep on your property. Chickens, pigs and other livestock are often banned in residential areas. Restrictions can also apply to everyday pets like dogs. A deed restriction might specify that you cannot have a dog over a certain weight or a dog that makes an excessive amount of noise.
  • Penalties for obstructing a neighbor’s view: You may see a restriction that limits your ability to tamper with your neighbor’s view. This restriction can prevent you from building sheds or fences on your property. It can also stop you from planting tall trees or shrubbery. View obstruction restrictions are common in resort areas and popular vacation destinations.
  • Restrictions on the type of fencing you can build: You may also see a restriction on certain types of fencing. Many communities ban chain-link fencing and very tall privacy fences. Fencing restrictions are one of the most common deed restrictions.
  • Limitation on home-run businesses: Deed restrictions on home businesses are also common. Most HOAs introduce these restrictions to prevent excessive traffic. This can be a major issue if you’re a small-business owner who works from home.
  • Approval requirements for building: Some homes have restrictions that require you to get approval from your HOA before you can build a new structure or renovate. This restriction keeps the homes within a development looking uniform.
  • Restrictions on exterior color palettes: You may be limited to siding color choices. Your HOA might provide you with a list of approved colors to choose from or a list of colors that are against the rules. Strict HOAs may not allow you to change your home’s color at all.
  • Restrictions on what you can keep in your yard: You might run into a deed restriction that prohibits certain items on your front yard or driveway. Some common examples of banned items include cars without license plates, boats and boat trailers, work trucks and storage sheds. Like vehicle-specific restrictions, this restriction keeps your yard from looking too cluttered.

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How To Know If You’re Looking At A Deed-Restricted Home

Deed restrictions can impact how you can use, decorate and enjoy your home. Before you make an offer on a property, make sure you read and understand any deed restrictions you’ll encounter before you buy. Here are a few different ways you can learn if there are any on the home:

  • Talk to your real estate agent. Your real estate agent or REALTOR®can look at previous listings of your property. These listings may note if there are restrictions on the land. They can also pull property records and see if there are any noted restrictions.
  • Ask a title company to do a search. Deed restrictions will always show up on a title search. You might need to specifically ask if there are any on the home when you do a title search.
  • Talk to the head of the HOA. Many deed restrictions come from HOAs. The head of your HOA may be able to show you any restrictions on the home’s property records.
  • Speak to your local government. Municipal clerks and urban planning departments keep public property records on file. You might be able to find your home’s restrictions by visiting your local clerk’s website and doing a search.

Deed restrictions and HOA rules are similar but not the same. It’s possible that a home might be subject to both a deed restriction and HOA rules. Be sure to read all restrictions and limits on your property before you buy.

How Long Do Deed Restrictions Last?

Deed restrictions aren’t HOA rules. HOA rules typically stick around until a resident makes an effort to change them; deed restrictions can vary in length. A deed restriction might expire a certain number of years after the home’s construction. On the other hand, public records might put an unlimited timeline on the restriction.

Deed restrictions “run with the land.” This means that they’re connected to the land itself – not the structure built on it. In theory, this means that everyone who buys the home must obey any restrictions unless there’s a specific expiration date in place. However, it’s possible to remove a restriction on a deed, especially if it’s impractical or illegal.

Can You Change A Deed Restriction?

Changing a deed restriction is more difficult than changing an HOA rule. For example, an HOA can decide one day that no one living in the development can have a chihuahua as a pet. However, if enough chihuahua enthusiasts living in the community complain about the new rule, the HOA may reverse its decision. As a result, HOA rules develop and change much more often than deed restrictions.

Deed restrictions can be a hassle to change and very rarely get updated to meet modern laws. Let’s say you want to change one. You’ll need to go through a formal process with the governing body of the restriction. Here are a few basic steps you’ll take to change or remove a restriction:

  • Get a copy of the covenant. A covenant is a contract that details a deed restriction’s full set of terms. Your real estate agent or title company might be able to get you a copy of the covenant. You may also need to visit your local clerk’s office or courthouse to obtain it.
  • Read the covenant. Once you obtain the covenant, read the terms of the restriction. The restriction might even have an expiration date that’s passed. If this is the case, you can safely ignore the deed restriction and continue with your purchase or building plans. If the covenant doesn’t include an expiration date, it may include information on the governing body. It may also include specific steps you need to take to alter or remove the deed restriction.
  • Speak to the governing body. You might need to talk to your HOA, city council or community association to alter the restriction. Consult the covenant and contact the governing body directly. You might be able to get permission to ignore the deed restriction.
  • Talk to your neighbors. Some deed restrictions include clauses that say your neighbor must agree to any alterations. In a few rare instances, your neighbor might also be the governing body on the restriction. Reach out to your neighbor and ask for permission to ignore or void the deed restriction. If your neighbor agrees, you’ll need to get a formal release from the deed restriction. You can usually use a form called a Restriction Release to void the agreement. Work together with your neighbor to fill out the Restriction Release. Be sure to have the document notarized.
  • Consult the court. If you can’t get an approval to alter or remove the deed restriction from the governing body, you can try petitioning a court to void it. A judge’s order will override any decision from the HOA, your neighbor or whomever owns the restriction. However, this usually only works if the restriction is illegal, discriminatory or so outdated that it’s no longer reasonable.

Deed restrictions are difficult to remove by design. Searching for a new property is often much easier than convincing a court to void a legal restriction. Think very carefully before you buy a home with deed restrictions in place.

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Deed restrictions are clauses on your home’s deed that limit how you can use your property. A deed restriction might state that you cannot build a shed in your yard or that you cannot own a certain breed of dog. Deed restrictions can come from an HOA, the builder of the home or a local governing body.

You can find out if your home has a deed restriction in place by speaking with a real estate agent, title company or HOA head. Many deed restrictions have expiration dates in place that limit how long they’re valid. If you find that your home does have a current deed restriction, you’ll need to go through a lengthy process to get it removed. Voiding or altering a deed restriction can be a time-consuming process, and it’s often easier to continue house hunting.

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