Covenants, conditions, and restrictions can be placed upon homeowners in planned unit developments, and even sometimes in established neighborhoods, restricting what they can and cannot do on their properties or with their homes. Often referred to as "CC&Rs," they can be imposed by builders, developers, or neighborhood associations, but they're commonly associated with 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 ordinances 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.
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 be painted white. Building restrictions and space limitations are more common, however. 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. Make sure you understand the terms of this restriction if you find it in your CC&Rs.
Some CC&Rs impose rules for pets and other animals. Dogs might have to be under a certain weight limit, or some breeds might be prohibited. Most CC&Rs disallow chickens, rabbits, or livestock in your yard. The number of animals you can keep could be limited if livestock is permitted, so you could be in trouble if your chicken is laying a good many eggs.
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 aren't 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 in 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 mean a forced sale or foreclosure.
Unlawful Restrictions in CC&RS
Some CC&R's include restrictions that are against the law and are therefore unenforceable, such as those involving race.
CC&Rs sometimes prohibited the sale of the property to homeowners who weren't Caucasian prior to the 1960s and before implementation of the federal Fair Housing Act. These racist documents are still in the public records, but they're invalidated due to state and federal laws. Nonetheless, some HOAs have been known to disregard these rules, even subtly.
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 that they can be enforced in court. More likely, however, you'll first be fined if you violate 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. And you typically have the right to a hearing in front of the HOA board first, as well as a right to appeal any decision made there.
In some states, such as Arizona, the state Department of Real Estate oversees CC&R disputes and offers a structured dispute process.
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. CC&Rs transfer with the property—it's expected that you know what they are and agree to abide by them if you go ahead with the purchase.
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.
You should also expect that the CC&Rs will identify the members of the community's governing board. They should specify whether you're obligated to contribute to payment for maintenance of common areas, if any, and not just any necessary repairs.
Conformity can be a good thing, but it's not for all people.