Restrictive covenants are certain conditions written into property deeds. Essentially, they determine what changes a homeowner can and cannot make.
What does this mean for you?
We’ve taken a closer look and unpacked some of the most common questions to tell you everything there is to know about restrictive covenants.
What does a restrictive covenant mean?
Restrictive covenants are often found in real estate documents and can be used to regulate the appearance or use of a property. For instance, a restrictive covenant might prohibit the owner of a property from using it for commercial purposes, or it might require the owner to maintain the property in a specific way.
Restrictive covenants can be enforceable by law and are often used to protect the value or character of a neighbourhood or community.
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 the installation of large structures. Essentially, it may cover anything from extensions to installing new features.
In short, they’re a set of rules in the title deeds that put restrictions on what a homeowner can do in particular circumstances.
A restrictive covenant is a legal agreement limiting the use of a piece of property in some way.
Common restrictive covenants
Some 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 you’re considering applying for planning permission to make home improvements, while others can be much stricter.
How do restrictive covenants work?
Restrictive covenants are legal provisions used to restrict the use or development of land. That means they typically appear in the deeds or titles to a property and are enforceable by the courts.
To be enforceable, a restrictive covenant must satisfy certain legal requirements. It should also be in writing, concerning the land in question, and it needs to be intended to benefit another piece of land.
If a person breaches a restrictive covenant, the owner of the land that benefits from the covenant can take legal action to enforce it. They may also seek damages for any loss suffered as a result of the breach.
Why are restrictive covenants 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.
Who benefits from a restrictive covenant?
The person who puts the covenant in place is the one primarily benefiting from it.
How common are restrictive covenants?
Not every property will have a restrictive covenant, but they are pretty common when it comes to homes in the UK. Restrictive covenants are typically included in the deeds of a property, a legal document describing the ownership and rights associated with a piece of real estate.
What buildings do restrictive covenants 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.
How legal are restrictive covenants?
Restrictive covenants are a legally binding type of agreement that can be enforced by the courts if needed. Again, the creator of the restrictive covenant may take legal action to enforce a covenant or seek damages.
However, it’s worth noting that restrictive covenants can be challenged or overturned if they are found to be unreasonable or if they conflict with other legal obligations, such as planning laws. In such cases, a court may decide to modify or discharge the covenant.
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 to a restrictive covenant 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 restrictive 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 restrictive 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: January 10th, 2023