Controlling Property With Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions

Men painting house and HOA approved color


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Covenants, conditions, and restrictions are often placed upon homeowners in planned unit developments and even some established neighborhoods. Known as CC&Rs, they can be imposed by builders, developers, neighborhood associations, or homeowner associations.

Homeowners must essentially give up some autonomy and abide by these rules in exchange for living in the community. Some restrictions are common, while others might leave you scratching your head. CC&Rs can place almost any kind of restriction as long as every member of the group forming the rules agrees and the rules don't violate any laws.

CC&Rs Are Not Zoning Laws

CC&Rs differ from zoning ordinances in that the latter are imposed and enforced by the government. They're a matter of law, whereas CC&Rs are contracts between private parties. CC&Rs are entered into voluntarily, so they can be even more restricting than zoning laws.

Some Common CC&R Provisions

Some neighborhoods restrict the color you can paint your house. A neighborhood might have CC&Rs that demand that every house is painted white.

Building restrictions and space limitations are more common. They often designate how close to the property line a structure can be built or erected. They can also include the minimum and maximum areas a dwelling can occupy.

A prohibition against nonresidential uses typically restricts commercial or industrial enterprises from being established in the neighborhood. There's a fine line between using a home office to conduct business and generating more traffic in your neighborhood due to clients coming to your house.

Some CC&Rs impose rules on pets and other animals. Dogs might have to be under a certain weight limit, or some breeds might be prohibited. Most disallow chickens, rabbits, or livestock in your yard. The number of animals you can keep could be limited if livestock is permitted. You could be in trouble if your duck gives birth to 20 ducklings.

Most city codes provide for setbacks and restrictions on fence constructions, but it's not uncommon to find limitations stated in the CC&Rs as well.

Some CC&Rs are so vague that they allow enforcement if the grounds are not maintained in a "general standard of neatness and attractiveness." This can allow a lien to be placed against the property for expenses incurred to enforce anything from the removal of an auto chassis sitting on bricks on the driveway to a barbecue that's simply visible from the road.

Dues and Assessments

These communities often impose monthly dues. Details regarding what you must pay and when you must pay, as well as how special fees might be apportioned and assessed between homeowners, can typically be found in the CC&Rs.

Assessments might be made when a large, unplanned expense affects the entire group, such as due to street damage caused by a weather event. Nonpayment can result in a lien against your home which could ultimately result in a forced sale or foreclosure.

Unlawful Restrictions in CC&RS

Some CC&R's involve restrictions that are against the law and are therefore unenforceable. Some might involve race.

Prior to the 1960s, some CC&Rs prohibited the sale of the property to homeowners who weren't "white" or Caucasian. These racist documents are still in the public records today, but they're invalidated due to state and federal laws.

How Are Violations Dealt With?

CC&Rs become a binding legal contract after the sale transaction when the deed is filed with the proper county authority. This means they can be enforced in court.

More likely, however, you'll first be fined for violating the rules and you'll probably have to foot the bill for any remedy enforced to correct the rule you broke. You might lose some of your community privileges, such as the use of the exercise room until you pay up. Lawsuits are usually a matter of last resort.

A Word of Caution

Always read the CC&Rs before buying a home. Ask for a copy before you sign a purchase agreement if you haven't yet received one. Sometimes these lists aren't voluntarily turned over to a buyer until the agreement is signed. You could find out too late that you can't leave your car in the driveway for more than two hours or put a basketball hoop in the street.

Conformity can be a good thing, but it's not for all people.