What is a restrictive covenant and how might it affect my home improvement project?
You may own your home but that doesn’t mean you can do with it as you choose - not if there are restrictive covenants attached to it.
A restrictive covenant is an agreement in a deed which restricts the use of the land your property sits on. Your solicitor should have pointed it out to you when you purchased your home, however it’s good practice to check through the deeds to make sure any have been uncovered before you complete the purchase of your home.
They are usually put in place by the developer who built your home or by a local authority or other body like a national park or a heritage foundation.
Covenants are designed to uphold certain standards for all residents. Housing developers and property management companies will often add restrictive covenants to a transfer deed in order to prevent owners from undertaking work or other practices which could impact negatively on a neighbourhood or undermine a desired level of ‘uniformity’ or maintenance.
Common examples might include:
- Preventing owners from making alterations to a property, such as building an extension, converting a house into flats, adding a porch, changing the roof tiles or paving over the front garden.
- Preventing buildings or other substantial structures from being erected on a section of land.
- Preventing trades or businesses from operating from the land.
- Prohibiting the fixture of satellite dishes or security cameras to the front of the house.
- Parking a caravan, motorhome, commercial vehicle or boat in the front garden.
- Keeping chickens or other livestock or allowing a garden to become overgrown and untidy.
If you can get the freeholder to agree, a restrictive covenant can be removed or varied with a deed of variation – there will usually be a fee involved and you may not be successful.
If you are found to be in breach of a covenant you could face a large fine or legal action, or you could be asked to undo the work.
If this has happened, you can seek retrospective permission for carrying out the work and if you’re unable to trace the person who has the benefit of the covenant or can’t find them, you can apply to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to change or dismiss the covenant. This can be costly and time-consuming and may not succeed. You will have to pay your own costs, and if the case fails, the costs of the person who created the covenant.
Indemnity insurance can be taken out for work done by a previous owner of the property in breach of the covenant but these policies normally include very specific restrictions.
If you think you have breached a restrictive covenant you should employ the services of a conveyancing solicitor as this can be a very complex matter.