Understanding Deed Restrictions

If you're looking at purchasing a piece of property or a home, you may be curious about deed restrictions –what they are and exactly how much weight they carry. Deed restrictions refer to a wide range of conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CCRs) that are attached to the deed of a house.

What Exactly is a Deed Restriction?
Deed restrictions can cover most anything about the way you use your property –from the way you remodel your house, to if you can conduct business from home, to the number of outbuildings you have in your yard.  It might also prohibit you from cutting down trees or altering other features of your property.

In some cities, deed restrictions take the place and serve a similar purpose to zoning requirements –they may limit the use of a property or how far a house can be built from the road.

Who Establishes a Deed Restriction?
A developer, homeowner's association (HOA), or a previous owner may place a restriction. It's hard get deed restrictions removed. If the current owner placed the restriction on the deed, you can work with your real estate attorney to see if the owner will negotiate or remove the deed restriction as a condition of purchase, though this may be difficult. You can also check with your attorney to see if there are any expiration dates on deed restrictions in your city or state –some places limit the amount of time that a deed restriction is effective.

Who enforces a deed restriction?
If you are really set on a property despite deed restrictions you don't agree with, you might consider buying the property and doing what you want regardless, thinking no one will care. But anyone who is aware of the restriction on the title can enforce it through filing a lawsuit against you. In some cities, enforcing a restriction is a simple as filing a complaint with the city attorney.

You should talk with your attorney if you are seriously considering purchasing a property with a deed restriction that you don't like. Otherwise, you might end up with fines and dissatisfied neighbors.

Can a Deed Restriction Be Removed?
You might wonder if, after, purchasing a property, you could have a deed restriction removed. You should talk with a real estate attorney with experience in deed restrictions, but often times the answer is no, particularly if you live in a neighborhood with an active HOA.

Sometimes, however, the restrictions are unreasonable or just down right illegal. If something seems "off" about a deed restriction, you can always explore its legality before you purchase the property. You could ask for a contingency clause in your contract.

Deed restrictions can be a surprise for some new homeowners –which serve as a reminder that all potential buyers should always have a title search done by an experienced real estate attorney.

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