What is a covenant?
Moving house, as we all know, can be a very stressful time. Most people assume that once they’ve purchased a property they can relax as they are free to do what they like with it. They know they might need planning permission or building regulation approval from the local council before they do things like build an extension, but assume that this is the only type of consent they will require. However, many freehold homes can be subject to restrictions which can be enforced by the owners of neighbouring property. These are called covenants.
How covenants work
A covenant is a legally-enforceable provision which is contained in the title deed of a property. They can be positive – requiring some action to be taken, or restrictive – preventing something from being done.
Covenants usually come to light when your solicitor is carrying out the various searches that they make on your behalf as part of the legal process of buying a property. These checks are done before you exchange contracts with the seller and commit to the purchase.
Covenants restricting what can be done with a property are extremely common. They are often imposed by a landowner who is selling off part of his land, in order to protect the value of the land he retains. For instance, nearly every new house on an estate is likely to be subject to covenants. Many older properties are affected by restrictive covenants. Sometimes they relate back many years and can be unenforceable as the neighbourhood and the times have changed, and no one knows who has the benefit of the covenant.
Examples of covenants
Covenants could cover things like prohibiting you from hanging washing out in your front garden, or the stipulation that your front door should be painted a certain colour to preserve the character of the estate.
Sometimes they can have more serious implications for the purchaser. The sort of action that can be restricted by covenant is building on a section of the land, making alterations to buildings, or using the building for any business or trade. It’s also common to find that a house must be used as an individual dwelling and not converted into separate flats.
How to protect your interests
If you are considering purchasing a property, and are thinking of changing its use, or carrying out building works like adding an extension, then you should let your solicitor know. They can then check out the contract and documents of title and advise you of anything in these documents that will prevent you from carrying out your plans.