Buying a Home With Deed Restrictions

First find out what’s hiding in the small print

 A flat-roofed ranch-style home sits proudly behind well-kept landscaping and shrubbery.
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After a long search, you find the perfect home, but there’s a catch. It has deed restrictions. Is that a bad thing, and most importantly, should it be a deal-breaker? 

Deed restrictions often help maintain the look and feel of residential areas, specifically those with homeowners associations. So, in some situations, deed restrictions can be helpful to homeowners. They can also throw a wrench in your plans for your property. 

Learn more about deed restrictions, the different types that exist, and how to get them removed. 

Key Takeaways

  • Deed restrictions are legally binding provisions attached to the title of a property.
  • Deed restrictions can limit both how you can use your property and what you can build on it.
  • It’s often difficult to change or remove deed restrictions.

What Are Deed Restrictions?

Also called restrictive covenants and CC&Rs, deed restrictions are provisions attached to the title of a home. They can restrict what you build and do on a particular piece of property. In many cases, they “run with the land,” which means that whoever buys the property must abide by the rules until they expire—if they have an expiration date. Deed restrictions are legally binding, so they can be enforced in court.

Consider what deed restrictions are in place, how they impact your purchase price, and how the property’s price compares to other properties in the area. 

You can find the deed restrictions by performing a title search in the real property records of the county where the title is located. In addition, you can ask the homeowner, property agent, or someone from the homeowners association (when applicable) if any deed restrictions are present. However, it’s always good to double-check the title. 

Title insurance can help protect you if a previous owner violated one of the deed restrictions and you are brought to court for it. 

Types of Deed Restrictions

When it comes to deed restrictions, there are many different types. Here are a few common examples:

Vehicles

A deed restriction may limit the types of vehicles you can keep on a piece of property. For example, you may only be able to have two personal-use vehicles in the driveway or front of your house. Or you may not be able to keep certain types of vehicles on your property like motor homes, RVs, boats, inoperable vehicles, or motorcycles. 

Commercial Use

A deed restriction may also prevent you from operating a business out of your home. This is often to prevent traffic from frequently coming and going through your neighborhood. 

Unattached Structures

Some deeds may limit what you can build on your property such as sheds, extra garage space, and pool houses. 

Primary Home Restrictions

In some cases, a deed may restrict how you can build your primary home in terms of height, weight, position, materials, style, and color. For example, a deed may prevent you from building in a way that will obstruct another property’s view. This is often the case in vacation home destinations where a property’s view is an important factor in its value. Style, color, and material limitations can also be put in place to ensure a neighborhood has the desired look. 

Fencing

You may face restrictions related to the type of fencing you can put up on your property. For example, you might be restricted from certain types like chain link fencing.

Animals

Deeds can also restrict the types of animals that can be kept on a piece of property. For example, in some residential areas, you may be prohibited from keeping chickens, goats, livestock, and certain breeds of dogs. You may also be limited in the quantities of animals you can have and they may need to be contained or leashed.

Leasing

Deed restrictions may limit leasing activities on your property. For example, you could be restricted from renting out your property for less than six months at a time. 

How To Change Deed Restrictions

Changing a deed restriction can be a lengthy and labor-intensive process that varies by state. If you want to take on the battle, you’ll often need to follow these steps:

  1. Contact your county courthouse to get a copy of the covenant/restriction which can be found in the chain of title. 
  2. Review it and look for instructions on how to modify it. 
  3. If none exist, identify the governing body and contact the person in charge of managing the restriction(s). 
  4. When there is no current governing body, you will often need to gain the agreement of anyone who is affected by the deed restriction, as they can bring you to court to enforce it. 
  5. You typically need a notarized formal restriction release form that’s signed by all affected parties or the governing body to get the restriction release finalized.

Your state may also require certain steps to modify covenants, so consult with a local real estate attorney.

A court order can also be used to remove deed restrictions that are found to be unfair, discriminatory, or otherwise illegal. This was the situation in the 1948 Supreme Court case of Shelley vs. Kraemer, which eliminated the enforceability of racist real estate covenants.

Deed Restrictions vs. HOA Rules

While similar in restricting property owners, deed restrictions and HOA rules have the following distinct differences:

  Deed Restrictions HOA Rules
What are they? Legally binding restrictions on how owners can use or build on their property. Rules are set by a homeowners association for all homeowners who live within a specific community.
Applies to Can apply to all properties. Applies to property owners living in communities with homeowners associations.
How rules are changed Require re-filing with the state. Require HOA board vote and community review.
Example Can't have more than two vehicles in the driveway. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult at the pool.
Takes precedence Yes No

Deed restrictions can apply to all properties, whether they are part of a community with a homeowners association or not. HOA rules, on the other hand, are rules beyond any CC&R’s that apply to a specific community governed by an HOA

While deed restrictions are attached to the title of a property, HOA rules are not. The HOA governing board will set the rules and provide them to you in a contract when moving into the community. If there is a contradiction between the two, a deed restriction typically takes precedence over an HOA bylaw or regulation. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you find deed restrictions on a property?

You can find deed restrictions that apply to a property by performing a title search and reading the current deed carefully. While you can ask the current property owner or agent if there are any deed restrictions, your best bet is to go to the source and review the deed record firsthand. Further, consulting a real estate attorney couldn't hurt.  

How do deed restrictions affect resale value?

Deed restrictions can make a property more or less desirable. In some cases, the restrictions help to maintain a certain look which can help the homes in the area to retain their values. However, in others, they may limit your freedom to build where you want, lease how you want, etc. which could be perceived as a loss, lowering the property value. 

Who enforces deed restrictions when there is no HOA?

In most cases, homeowners associations (HOAs) are the principal enforcers of deed restrictions. However, when there is no HOA, a deed restriction might be enforced by a branch of your local government. For example, in Houston, Texas, the city has a Deed Restriction Enforcement Team. Residents can file a deed restriction complaint form to report other residents. In many states, deed restrictions can be enforced in court by any individual or landowner who is benefiting from the restriction.