Why Homebuyers Need Restrictive Covenants

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Are you looking to buy a home in a community run by a homeowners association – or HOA?  If so, then you’ll have to abide by its restrictive covenants. So what are restrictive covenants?

Although this term may conjure up images of a satanic cult, “restrictive covenants”—also known as CC&Rs (for “covenants, conditions, and restrictions”)—aren’t as ominous as they sound.

Simply put, CC&Rs are just the rules you’ll have to follow if you live in that community. Unlike zoning regulations, which are government-imposed requirements on how land can be used, restrictive covenants are established by planned subdivisions to maintain the attractiveness and value of the property.

Odds are you’re all for rules that keep the real estate you’re buying in good shape! But some CC&Rs don’t always sit well with some residents and are seen as too, well, restrictive. It all depends on your perspective and how much freedom you want over your home—or protection from your neighbors exercising that same freedom in ways you might not like.

Common Restrictive Covenants

Restrictive covenants differ from community to community, but there are some you can expect to see:

•Permissible colors for exterior house paint

•Minimum property and landscaping standards

•Types of fencing allowed

•Types of window treatments allowed

•Limitations on the type of security lights you can attach to the house

•Controls on installing sporting equipment such as a basketball hoop in the driveway

•Restrictions that limit vehicle storage or recreational vehicle parking

•Curbs on property uses that generate noise or smells (e.g., raising livestock)

•Rules on commercial or business uses of land reserved for residences

While it’s easy to focus on what these rules say you can’t do, try to turn the tables and see the upsides, too.

“A reasonable HOA is like heaven,” says Bruce Ailion, Realtor® and attorney for Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta.

Several years ago he represented a builder of family homes that were sold to investors; with no restrictive covenants in place, the community looked terrible two years later. By contrast, a nearby community that had instituted an HOA to oversee lawn care and home exteriors was thriving.

“Those properties looked like new, and year after year the gap in price between the two communities has grown,” he says.

When To Review Your CC&Rs

After your offer to buy a home is accepted, you are legally entitled to receive and review the community’s CC&Rs over a certain numbers of days (typically between three and 10).

Warning: Some CC&Rs can be hundreds of pages, but given these are the laws you’ll have to abide by, this is required reading that you skip at your own peril.

If you spot anything in the restrictive covenants you absolutely can’t live with, you can bring it up with the HOA board or just back out of your contract completely (and keep your deposit). It may seem extreme, but if this is the place you hope to call home, living with rules that seriously cramp your style may just not be worth the trouble.

Can You Change Restrictive Covenants?

Restrictive covenants, however, aren’t set in stone. They can be contested and changed with a majority vote of the shareholders, aka neighbors in your development. This can work for or against you depending on where you stand. Ailion says he has seen neighborhoods tighten regulations by issuing fines for cars parked in the streets, bicycles left outside the garage, nonstandard mailboxes, and other potentially petty problems.

“Yes, restrictive covenants keep the appearance of the property up and can prevent eyesores such as wrecked cars, unkempt lawns, and oddball home colors,” Ailion says. But he admits there are times when CC&Rs can be so restrictive that they start infringing on the rights of their residents.

But even in that case, there are things you can do. In January 2016, for instance, when an HOA in Keizer, OR, wouldn’t allow a family to park their RV in their driveway—a necessity for their disabled child—the family fought back with a lawsuit, arguing that the Fair Housing Act requires HOAs to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities.

The bottom line: Restrictive covenants are meant to protect residents, but they can be changed if they’re out of line. Make sure to review them before you buy a home, and if you disagree, by all means speak up! Many others may be glad you did.

Covenants in Maryland

Alexander’s Note: In our Central Maryland Home market you have 5 days once you receive the Homeowners documents if you want to back out. It gives you the legal out in case there’s something in there you don’t like.

So it always behooves sellers to get those documents to a buyer as fast as possible.

We have numerous CC&Rs for condos, HOAs and smaller communities. But our most well-known – and possibly most restrictive – community covenants are from the Columbia Association in Howard county.

With guidelines to your landscaping, exterior colors and ability to change features, these can be too restrictive for some. But they serve a good purpose.

What CC&Rs Protect Against

A neighborhood can see it’s curb appeal – and home values – slip when there are no rules in place. For example, if your neighbor parked their work truck, boat or semi on your block.

Or if they decided to have a block party, and forgot to move their furniture back inside. Covenants can protect neighbors from unkept yards, loud parties into the wee hours and business activities.

One or two might not be a big issue, but taken as a whole, they can slowly bring down the value of your most prized asset.

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The professionals at Wissel Homes know the Central Maryland market because it’s our home too. We live and breathe the local neighborhoods in Howard County, Carroll County, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and more. We understand what it takes to get the job done right. Contact us today to set up an appointment to list your home or to start the home buying process. Let our experience help move you into your dream home.