Covenants and Conditions and Restrictions, Oh My!

Covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs, are almost always put in place when a subdivision is created. They cover a large range of property rights and uses, determining issues as broad as the height of your fence to whether you can park an RV in your driveway. Some CC&Rs can be quite restrictive; governing details like what color you can paint your house or whether your floor plan has enough square footage. When the value of a property is tied to a view, CC&Rs will sometimes restrict whether certain lots can build a house with a second (or third) story.

CC&Rs vary widely. Some are long and detailed; others list just a few basic restrictions. According to Avvo.com, some of the most common things CC&Rs regulate include landscaping, including types of trees or bushes and grass height; house color, including trim; size and type of outbuildings, like sheds and garages; pets, including type and size (for example, no farm animals or any animals heavier than 20lbs); outdoor decorations, both year-round and holiday; parking, like how many vehicles and what type of vehicles; and junk, including items as obvious as cars on blocks and less obvious things like gardening tools or unattractive but functional benches.

CC&Rs are usually created in hopes of maintaining property values for the long term. Conformity to size and style—and maintaining views—prevents wild individualism from lowering the value of surrounding homes.

The CC&Rs are something all buyers should be aware of before making a final decision on whether to purchase a property. I recommend reviewing them carefully (you can find them in the preliminary title report). While they may feel restrictive, consider whether your freedom is more valuable than having no rules for anyone in the subdivision. While you might like a few more colors to choose from for exterior paint, your quirky neighbor may think it would be fun to paint her house in pink and purple stripes.

In reviewing the CC&Rs, you may want to make sure they are restrictive enough. If you are paying a premium for a home because of a view, you’ll want to confirm that the CC&Rs protect that view. If they don’t, you may want to renegotiate that price or request that new restrictions be put in place.

CC&Rs are typically enforced by neighbors, which can cause hard feelings. When people on your street band together to complain about the paint on your house, it makes the neighborhood potluck a little tense.

Neighbors can go to court to enforce CC&Rs, but it’s usually a difficult, time consuming, costly, and unfriendly action. So if you and your neighbors have a difference of opinion on this, please talk about it before making a formal complaint. It makes future potlucks so much more palatable.

If there’s a homeowners’ association, that body should be the CC&R enforcement arm. It feels less personal (and awkward) when the association deals with CC&Rs because the association represents all homeowners, not just the guy you’ll see over the fence for the next 20 years.

A close cousin to the CC&Rs is the road maintenance agreement and the same rules pretty much apply.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. Read the CC&Rs. Be sure you understand them. Consider whether they work for you in the type of neighborhood you’re moving into. If you need help, ask your realtor. It’s always best get information before you purchase a home. Once it’s yours, it’s yours, CC&Rs and all.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.