One of the most valuable services a real estate lawyer can offer is help dealing with and removing deed restrictions. What are deed restrictions? What types of restrictions might you encounter in your home purchase? And what can your real estate attorney do about them? Here's what you need to know.
What Is a Deed Restriction?
The deed to a property provides important legal stipulations about exactly what you own and where that ends. However, the deed may go on to specify certain requirements of ownership based on prior agreements. A deed might include the requirement that you allow your neighbor to use your driveway, for instance, even though this arrangement was first worked out decades ago.
What Are Common Deed Restrictions?
The most common deed restrictions come in a few basic categories. The first, as mentioned above, is called an easement. Easements are allowances for others to use specific portions of your land. This includes access, allowance for activities like hunting, or a neighbor whose barn is on the wrong side of the property line. It's often very difficult to get many easements lifted.
The second category of restrictions is limitations on what you can put on the property. This may include an agreement not to block a certain view, how many vehicles you may have on the property, which outbuildings are allowed or banned, or even whether you may cut down certain trees. Some of the more common restrictions involve whether you can run a business or have certain animals.
The final type of restriction affects the primary home itself. This is more common in neighborhoods with homeowners groups, and it could address things like paint colors, the size or number of floors in a home, architectural style, or allowable renovations. These restrictions are often the most onerous for homebuyers eager to put their own mark on their house.
What Can You Do About Restrictions?
Not all buyers recognize deed restrictions when they buy a property. The best way to ensure you don't miss anything is to work with a qualified real estate attorney who will do the research necessary to catch anything attached to the deed.
If there is a restriction you want lifted, you may need to take the matter to court and request its removal. This can be difficult for restrictions that have been in place a long time and which have good reasons (like driveway access). Others may be easier to remove if they're no longer relevant or if circumstances have changed—such as if a neighbor tore down that barn on your property and replaced it with a new one on their property.
Where Should You Start?
If you haven't already retained a real estate attorney as you look for a new home, now is the time to work with one. They'll help you determine if deed restrictions exist, how they affect you, and what your chances are of removing them. Then you can move forward as an informed home buyer.