Restrictive covenants are certain conditions written into property deeds.
Essentially, they determine what changes a homeowner can and can’t make.
What does this mean for you?
We’ve taken a closer look and unpicked some of the most common questions to tell you what you need to know.
What is a restrictive covenant?
A restrictive covenant can cover anything from extensions to installing new features.
Some of the most common include preventing major structural changes to a property, such as converting a house into flats or building a loft extension. Other covenants prevent businesses from operating on the land, or installing large structures.
In short: they’re a set of rules in the title deeds that put restrictions on what a homeowner can do in particular circumstances.
Common restrictive covenants
Some other examples include:
- No alterations to the property without consent
- No parking of commercial vehicles, boats or caravans in the front
- Prohibiting satellite dishes from being fixed
- Not to annoy or be a nuisance for the neighbours
- Limitations on the number/ type of animals and pets
- Not allowing the garden to become untidy
- Prohibiting the installation of security cameras
- Preventing other buildings being erected
- Not playing musical instruments at certain times
- Restricting the height of structures that can be built
These don’t necessarily apply to every property; restrictions vary based on the building itself and where it’s located. Some will only affect you if considering applying for planning permission, while others can be much stricter!
Why are they used?
They’re usually used to maintain a particular area and set standards for residents to uphold.
They can also be put in place by developers to protect an appearance and keep uniformity.
For example, they may want to ensure all future owners have to adhere to certain specifications if building anything new.
Alternatively, restrictive covenants are often put in place by the owner of the land, if selling part or all of it. This means they retain a level of control, while reducing the chance of damage. Landowners might be concerned about the reduction of value, for example.
The person who puts the covenant in place is the one benefiting from it.
What buildings do they apply to?
These restrictions apply to both new build homes and older houses alike.
This covers both freehold and leasehold properties.
How long do restrictive covenants last?
Restrictive covenants ‘run with the land’ meaning they don’t just apply to original owners, but future ones too.
This means that old covenants can still be valid – unless the original landowner cannot be traced or the covenant is ambiguous. Also, depending on their age, some covenants can become obsolete.
What happens if you’ve breached a covenant?
Consequences vary depending on the individual situation, whether you breached it intentionally or not. You could be asked to remove all the work you’ve just paid to have done. This may occur even if you didn’t need planning permission for the extension.
Alternatively, you might be required to pay a fine.
In some cases, you may face legal action.
Indemnity insurance can protect you if the covenant was breached before you bought the property.
What happens when you’re selling?
If you’ve made a breach and you’re also selling – it’s recommended to take out restrictive covenant insurance. This helps minimise risk, as if the covenant is challenged it can help cover any legal costs defending your actions.
Costs vary between £40 to over £100.
Bear in mind this indemnity insurance will only apply if you’ve breached the covenant for 12 months and haven’t been challenged.
The most important step to take is to seek legal advice, so ensure you speak to your solicitor if you’re in this situation.
Removing covenants from deeds
First things first, find out if it is still possible to enforce the covenant – for example if the original landowner can be contacted. If not, you could contact the Land Registry about removing it from the deeds.
If it can be enforced, you could try and negotiate with the party who has the benefit of the covenant. They may ask to be compensated in return.
If you feel it’s unreasonable, you could apply to the Lands Tribunal about having it removed or changed. Appealing to the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal can help you if you think there’s been a legal problem about a particular decision.
How much does it cost to remove a restrictive covenant?
This can vary depending on the property and the individual circumstances around it.
Even if you’re successful in having the covenant removed, you will still have to cover the legal costs. There’s also no guarantee how long it will take.
However, if the objection is successful, you may still have to cover the legal fees of the beneficiaries of the covenant.
Tips for removing covenants
Always seek advice and guidance, ideally from someone with previous experience and expertise in the field.
Take care to keep a paper trail of any communication that takes place.
When it comes to the beneficiary, try to approach the topic in the best manner possible, as you’re more likely to get a better reaction. Explain the impact the covenant is having on your life and why you want it removed.
Why do people challenge property covenants?
There are numerous reasons why a homeowner might feel the need to have a covenant removed. It could be that they feel it’s too strict, or completely unreasonable.
Alternatively, they might want to add value to their home through property refurbishment.
Particularly if a restriction is old, they might feel it’s outdated and no longer has a place in the home they own. Or, perhaps it conflicts with their business interests.
How do you know if a property covenant affects you?
A solicitor should make you aware of any covenants before you buy the property.
Therefore, never underestimate the importance of seeking legal advice. Even if you unknowingly breach a covenant, you could still be opening yourself up to a potential legal battle and plenty of hassle.
We can put you in touch with professional, licensed solicitors. All work on a no sale/no fee basis, which means you can guarantee you’ll be getting value for money.
The right guidance is essential every step of the way. The world of property can feel like a minefield, so it’s essential to have the help of an expert!
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Last Updated: September 2nd, 2021