10 Deed Restrictions That Could Ruin Your Dream Home

Before you break ground on your dream home, find out what deed restrictions you might want to avoid. See more houses and real estate pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Brigitte Smith

You can see it in your head now. There's the white picket fence, and a boat parked out front that you take to the lake on the weekends. You have beautiful picture windows looking out on a well-manicured lawn that seems to go on for miles. Later, you'll sit on your huge back porch, hidden from view by your privacy fence, and overlook your pool and the huge shed where you keep your gardening equipment. This is your dream home -- the one you've been waiting for your entire life.

But, not so fast. You might need to keep dreaming if you plan to build that home on land that is subject to any deed restrictions. A deed restriction (also known as a restrictive covenant), is a provision in a deed that limits what can be built on a property, or how that property can be used. Deed restrictions "run with the land," meaning they apply to all future owners of the property, not just the person who owns it when the restriction is adopted [source: McKenzie]. The origins of these restrictions can vary. Maybe the property is located in a neighborhood with an active homeowner's association that created the restrictions, or in a historic urban neighborhood where restrictions have been in place for years, or in a rural area where two neighboring farmers made a deal 100 years ago that is still in force.


Wherever they come from, the scope of what deed restrictions can control might shock you. And changing them can involve costly legal expenses and huge amounts of time and effort, if it's even possible. So before you break ground on that dream home, read on to find out about deed restrictions you might want to avoid.

10: Obstructing a Neighbor's View

Property owners can get very touchy when a new neighbor comes in and plans on putting up a three story house that completely obliterates views from surrounding homes' front porches, back decks, bedroom windows, etc. So, homeowners often have mutual agreements not to build any structures that obstruct existing views. Often written in as deed restrictions, these agreements may have been in place for decades, and stipulate that the view must be exactly the same as it was when the agreement was signed. Such agreements are especially popular in vacation destinations and resort areas, where that view of the mountains or the beach is considered very important. But even seemingly mundane views like distant mountains or neighborhood lakes and golf courses could be protected. It can be very difficult to build a house on one of these deed-restricted lots, since the restriction might affect how high or wide you can build your home, or even where you can situate it on the property [source: Rossi, et al].


9: Type and Number of Vehicles

Deed restrictions frequently limit exactly how many cars you can have parked in the driveway and in front of the house. This is usually used as a measure to keep the streets and the fronts of houses from looking cluttered. So, if you have a large family with several children old enough to drive, you could run into problems if, for example, you have five cars, and the restrictions only allow three. Some homeowner's associations may grant a variance for an increased number of cars. But be careful that you don't violate the restriction. If your neighbors sue you and win, a judge could order that your vehicles be impounded [source: Rossi, et al].

Vehicle restrictions can also have a negative impact on your hobbies. Provisions banning vehicles like motor homes, boats and motorcycles are frequently included in deed restrictions and covenants. You might also be prevented from storing non-working cars in front of the property [source: City of Verona]. So, aspiring mechanics should be careful before buying any property whose deed limits those activities.


8: Building Fences

Deed restrictions specifying exactly what types of fences are acceptable are some of the strictest-- and most widespread -- of restrictions, especially in subdivisions and developed neighborhoods. Often, the style of the fence will be limited: chain link fences or very tall privacy fences may be prohibited. Fence height is also frequently controlled. A typical restriction might limit the fence to 3 or 4 feet (1 or 1.25 meters) in the front yard, and 6 feet (about 2 meters) in the back [source: Rossi, et al].

A fence might seem like an afterthought in a huge undertaking like building a house, but your lifestyle could be affected if your fencing options are limited. For example, if chain link fences are prohibited, you might not be able to keep your pets confined and in view. If privacy fences are banned, you may not be too eager to spend hours sunbathing by the pool behind your new house.


7: Removing Trees

Lots in many neighborhoods have deed restrictions designed to prevent trees from being removed.
Ryan McVay/Thinkstock

You may be able to picture the perfect house on that new lot. Just knock down a tree here, another tree there, and it will look perfect. But be careful. Lots in many neighborhoods have deed restrictions designed to prevent trees from being removed. There could be a ban on any tree removal, or a certain percentage of trees on the lot might be protected. Different neighborhoods have different reasons for these restrictions. Sometimes they are designed to keep an environmentally friendly atmosphere or to preserve that tree-lined residential look. These restrictions are becoming more common in suburban neighborhoods and larger developments [source: Wilkening]. But they might also be in place on rural land that might seem untouched by deed restrictions. Agreements made years ago between neighboring rural property owners about keeping certain trees might still be binding on the land [source: Snell].


6: Approving Plans

Builders, developers or homeowner's associations will often write into deed restrictions that they have the authority to approve plans for any renovations, additions or new builds on a property [source: Snell]. Since this authority is written into the deed restrictions, it can apply many years after the last new house is built in a certain development. So depending on how much a neighborhood tries to keep houses uniform, and how much your dream house varies from that style, you could have trouble getting those plans approved by the powers that be. Developers or HOAs can be very strict about those standards, down to the building materials used and the architectural style [source: Fambrough]. So, that deed-restricted neighborhood full of Victorian houses might not be the place for your sleek modern design. If you go ahead building the house without approval of the plans, you could end up paying damages, and an injunction could even force you to make changes to the house to conform with the standards you chose to ignore [source: Fambrough].


5: Adjacent Structures

Structures like detached garden sheds are often forbidden through deed restrictions.
©iStockphoto.com/Leah McDaniel

Structures like sheds, extra garages, detached workshops, and even pools and pool houses are often forbidden or severely controlled through deed restrictions. If they are not forbidden outright, they could be restricted in the same ways that houses are restricted: in terms of design, size and location on the property. Even if there are no specific restrictions on how structures can be designed, deeds often contain restrictions on what percentage of the property can be built. Like the restrictions on the house, covenants for adjacent structures can be extremely finicky. There have even been cases in which HOAs have insisted that children's tree houses be disassembled [source: Pace]. So when you're looking for land to build your house, make sure you consider any other buildings or structures that are necessary to living the dream.


4: No Business Here

If you run a business out of your home, deed restrictions could get in the way of you making your living. Some deed restrictions prevent any business from being conducted in residential dwellings. There's no use building your dream house if you can't work to pay the mortgage. While it seems unfair, these restrictions are usually put in place to stop excessive coming and going by customers and delivery drivers. The idea is that increased traffic could bring more crime into the neighborhood [source: Rossi, et al]. However, challenging this type of deed restriction in court is an option. Often, judges find that these types of covenants are illegal attempts to restrict private rights [source: Rossi, et al]. Your chances of prevailing in court are especially good if your work is something you do alone out of a home office, where perceived dangers to the neighborhood wouldn't be an issue [source: Rossi, et al].


3: Color Palettes

Many neighborhoods have restrictions in place to limit the spectrum of paint colors on houses.

Many neighborhoods and subdivisions have deed restrictions in place to limit the spectrum of paint colors on houses. In some cases, those restrictions might provide a list of approved colors. Or non-approved colors may be listed, instead. Those approved and banned color lists can be minute and specific. For example, one shade of light yellow might be okay, while a different shade of light yellow might be forbidden [source: Glenn]. Restrictions can also apply to finishes like brick, stone and styles of siding [source: Fambrough]. Those can get pretty detailed. For example, a restriction might require that a certain percentage of a house's exterior be built of brick [source: Fambrough].


2: Pet Restrictions

Deeds restrictions often forbid certain breeds of dogs from a property.

Restrictions on livestock like chickens, goats and pigs are some of the most common deed restrictions. Even outside of strict, HOA-monitored neighborhoods, these restrictions are widespread. Limiting the types of animals allowed on a property is actually one of the oldest uses of restrictive covenants [source: McKenzie]. From keeping livestock out of residential neighborhoods, to restricting cattle and sheep to certain areas of farmland, these types of deed restrictions date back hundreds of years [source: McKenzie].

But farm animals aren't the only furry creatures that can be shut out of a property. Deed restrictions often forbid certain breeds of pets, restrict the number of pets that can live on a property or prohibit residents from keeping their animals outside [source: Rossi, et al]. So, unless you can stand to say goodbye to your beloved pit bull, pot-bellied pig or five of your eight cats, pay close attention to deed restrictions. Pet owners could really have their hearts broken. HOAs can seek a judge's injunction to have violating pets removed from your property [source: Rossi, et al].


1: Number of Bedrooms

It won't do you much good if you find a property that is perfect for your new house, but deed restrictions limit the number of bedrooms it can have. Not being able to fit your entire family in the house of your dreams would be a pretty major setback. Often, such restrictions are in place because the septic or sewer capacity is limited to a house of a certain size [source: Gassett]. The idea being that the more bedrooms a house has, the more bathrooms it will have. Other times, the restrictions are in place to enforce a uniform size for all of the homes in the neighborhood [source: McLinden].

Even if you want to build a relatively small house, deed restrictions could cause trouble. Restrictions often impose a minimum size, rather than a maximum, since small one- or two-bedroom houses placed in between larger dwellings could hurt the value of the surrounding properties [source: Barta].

Deed Restrictions FAQs

What is a deed restricted community?
A deed restricted community comes with a set of rules and regulations imposed by a Homeowners Association (HOA). The residents have to abide by those rules for the betterment of the community.
Can you get restrictive covenants removed?
There might be a chance to remove restrictive covenants if you are a property purchaser. However, there is no guarantee that the restrictions will be lifted.
How do you research deed restrictions?
You can ask your property dealer if there are deed restrictions on a particular property. If you want to do your own research, you can ask your local clerk’s office.
Under what circumstance is a deed restriction most likely to be removed?
The only way to have a deed restriction removed is to approach the court with solid proof that a particular restriction is illegal. Unfair deed restrictions can also be removed by the court if proven.
Are deed restrictions forever?
Deed restrictions are likely to be removed over time. However, if specified in the deed restriction exclusively, it will pass on from person to person.
What happens if you don't follow deed restrictions?
There are serious consequences if someone fails to comply with deed restrictions. The other party has the right to sue you.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Barta, Patrick. "Eliminating Restrictions from a Property Deed." The Wall Street Journal. April 25, 2003. (Feb. 2, 2011)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121379918796784349.html
  • City of Verona, Wisconsin. "Covenants and Deed Restrictions." (Feb. 4, 2011)http://www.ci.verona.wi.us/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={241A8AB7-8BFB-4DE1-BEF6-793428244183}&DE={6F2D563C-7DA9-4356-A9B5-968656D23877}
  • Fambrough, Judon and Cindy Dickson. "Living with Deed Restrictions." Tierra Grande. 1983. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://recenter.tamu.edu/pdf/410.pdf
  • Gassett, Bill. "Massachusetts Title 5 Bedroom Count Deed Restriction." Massachusetts Real Estate News. Aug. 24, 2010. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://massrealestatenews.com/massachusetts-title-5-bedroom-count-deed-restriction/
  • Glenn, Lauren. "Deed Restrictions Now the Norm." The Herald-Tribune. July 6, 2003. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20030706/NEWS/307060445
  • Lawyers.com. "Restrictive Covenants on Real Estate." (Feb. 3, 2011)http://real-estate.lawyers.com/residential-real-estate/Restrictive-Covenants-on-Real-Estate.html
  • McKenzie, Evan. "Privatopia." Yale University Press. 1994.
  • McLinden, Steve. "Restrictive Covenants Protect Land Value." Bankrate.com. April 26, 2009. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/restrictive-covenants-hike-property-value.aspx
  • Pace, Julie. "The American Reality." Tampa Tribune. Jun. 18, 2006. (Feb. 3, 2011)
  • Pillsbury Law. "Fence Falls to Deed Restriction in Texas Appellate Victory." April 8, 2010. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://www.pillsburylaw.com/index.cfm?pageid=19&itemid=5484
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "CC&R Enforcement and Remedies" (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/ccr-enforcement-and-remedies.html
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "Purpose of CC&Rs." (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/purpose-of-ccr.html
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "Types of CC&Rs: Appearance, Maintenance, and Fences" (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/ccr-appearance-maintenance-fences.html
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "Types of CC&Rs: Home Business and Personal Conduct." (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/ccr-home-businesses.html
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "Types of CC&Rs: Noise and Pets." (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/ccr-noise-and-pets.html
  • Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. "Types of CC&Rs: View." (Feb. 2, 2011)http://realestate.findlaw.com/covenants-conditions-restrictions/ccr-view.html
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  • Wilkening, David. "Orlando, Fla.; A Suburban Developer Imposes Preservation Deed Restrictions."
  • The New York Times. Sept. 11, 1988. (Feb. 3, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/11/realestate/nation-orlando-fla-suburban-developer-imposes-preservation-deed-restrictions.html