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What You Should Know Before Purchasing A House With Deed Restrictions

April 21, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Victoria Araj

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When you’re house hunting, you may come across a deed-restricted community. This means specific rules have been established within the community to limit property owners’ actions with the house and the land it’s built on. But what exactly are deed restrictions, and how do they work?

Let’s walk through some of the most common deed restrictions – and what they might mean for you if you buy a home with one.

What Is A Deed Restriction?

A deed restriction is a written agreement that limits how you can use your property. Deed restrictions can restrict what you build and how you might want to use your home or land. It’s a private agreement that “runs with the land,” meaning it’s 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 a specific expiration date is in place.

These restrictions often involve a homeowners association (HOA), which is a type of deed-restricted community. HOAs institute these standards to keep property values high.

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What Are Common Deed Restrictions?

Here are some of the more common deed restrictions you’ll find:

  • Vehicle restrictions: You might be limited in the number or type of vehicles you can have on your property. Motor homes, boats and travel trailers are all commonly banned vehicles.

  • Pets and animals you can keep: Chickens, pigs and other livestock are often banned in residential areas. Restrictions may also apply to pets like dogs. A deed restriction might specify that property owners can’t have a dog over a certain weight or one that makes an excessive amount of noise.

  • Backyard property that obstructs a 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.

  • The type of fencing you can build: Many deed-restricted 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: Most HOAs introduce these restrictions to prevent excessive traffic. This can create issues if you’re a small-business owner who works from home.

  • Types of structures or renovations you can complete: Some homes have restrictions requiring you to get approval from your HOA before you can build a new structure or renovate your house. This restriction keeps the homes within a development looking uniform.

  • Exterior color palettes allowed: You may be limited on siding color options. Your HOA might provide you with a list of approved colors to choose from or a list of colors that are against the rules. Stricter HOAs may not allow you to change your home’s color at all.

  • Other property you may keep in your front yard or driveway: Some common examples of banned items include boats and boat trailers, work trucks, cars without license plates, and storage sheds. This can also include things like requiring that your trash or recycling bins be hidden from view until pickup days.

It’s important to research each house you’re interested in to see if the property has any deed restrictions. This information can help you decide whether to make an offer on a home, and it can prepare you for the potential limitations of living there.

How Do I Know I’m Looking At A Deed-Restricted Home?

Deed restrictions can impact how you can use, decorate and enjoy your home. In many states, the seller is required by law to disclose deed restrictions. However, here are a few additional ways you can find out whether the home has any deed restrictions:

  • Talk with your real estate agent. Your real estate agent or REALTOR® can look at previous listings of your property. These listings may note if the land has restrictions. Agents can also pull property records to see if any noted restrictions exist.

  • Ask a title company to do a search. Deed restrictions will always show up on a title search. When requesting a title search, you might need to specifically ask if the home has restrictions.

  • Talk with 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 with someone from 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.

It’s important to note that deed restrictions and HOA rules can sometimes overlap. If an HOA rule doesn’t turn up with a title search, it’s likely not a deed restriction but rather a rule that’s been agreed upon within the community.

How Long Do Deed Restrictions Last?

A deed restriction might expire a certain number of years after the home is built. On the other hand, public records might put an unlimited time frame on the restriction. HOA rules typically stick around until a resident tries to change them.

Can You Change A Deed Restriction?

Changing a deed restriction is more difficult than changing an HOA rule. For example, an HOA can decide that no one living in the development can have a Great Dane as a pet. However, if enough Great Dane enthusiasts living in the community complain, the HOA may reverse its decision.

As a result, HOA rules develop and change much more often than deed restrictions. However, you can also undergo processes to try to change or become exempt from a deed restriction.

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Steps To Changing Deed Restrictions

Deed restrictions can be a hassle to change and very rarely get updated to meet modern laws. You’ll need to go through a formal process with the governing body of the restriction.

Here are a few basic steps that may be necessary to change or be exempt from a restriction:

Step 1: Get A Copy Of The Covenant

A restrictive covenant is a contract detailing the terms of a deed restriction. Your real estate agent or title company can get you a copy of the covenant. You may also need to visit your local clerk’s office or courthouse to obtain it.

Step 2: Read The Covenant

Once you obtain the covenant, read the terms of the restriction. The restriction might have an expiration date that’s passed. If so, you may be able to 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 responsible for the restriction. It may also highlight specific steps you must take to alter or remove the deed restriction.

Step 3: Speak With The Governing Body

You may want to talk with your HOA, city council or community association to alter the restriction. Consult the covenant and contact the governing body directly. You may be able to get permission to ignore the deed restriction.

Step 4: Talk With Your Neighbors

Some deed restrictions include clauses indicating your neighbor(s) 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. You can potentially use a restriction release form to void the agreement. Work with your neighbor to fill out the restriction release. Be sure to have the document notarized.

Step 5: Consult The Court

If you can’t get approval from the governing body to alter or remove the deed restriction, you can try petitioning a court to void it. A judge’s order will override any decision from the HOA, your neighbor, or whoever owns the restriction. However, this usually only works if the restriction is illegal, discriminatory or so outdated 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. It’s best to tread cautiously before buying a home with deed restrictions.

Deed Restriction FAQs

If you still have questions about deed restrictions, here are a few frequently asked questions to review.

How do I research deed restrictions?

Because most states require the seller to disclose any deed restrictions, you will often have knowledge of these before putting an offer in. However, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to your real estate agent or local government to confirm any restrictions.

Who enforces a deed restriction?

An HOA or local government typically enforces deed restrictions. Generally, the person or entity who created the restriction is the only one who can enforce it. To fully understand the property, do your research so you’re aware of any restrictions and who set them in place.

The Bottom Line: Consider Your Options Before Buying A Deed-Restricted Home

Deed restrictions are clauses on your home’s deed that limit how you can use your property. A deed restriction might say you can’t build a shed in your yard or 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 a home has a deed restriction by speaking with a real estate agent, title company or HOA head. If you find that a home has an up-to-date deed restriction, you’ll need to go through a lengthy process to remove it. Voiding or altering a deed restriction can be a time-consuming process, and it’s often easier to continue house hunting.

Whether you’re still considering a deed-restricted house or ready to look for other options, getting the mortgage approval process started early in the house-hunting process is critical. Start an application online today so you can house shop with confidence.

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.