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Posted 10 May 2024

How Do I Find Out What Restrictive Covenants Are On My Property?

apartment / house / restrictive covenants

In this guide I answer lots of common questions around ‘restrictive covenants’ and what they mean for your property.

Homeowners and buyers often have queries around something called ‘restrictive covenants’ – in fact, one of the most frequent questions people ask is… “How do I find out what restrictive covenants are on my property?”

I’ll explore the precise definition of restrictive covenants shortly. But in short, as the name implies, they have the potential to put certain restrictions on what you can do with a property.

You might be wondering how many UK properties have restrictive covenants in place and as a result, how likely you are to come across one. Well, after HM Land Registry released its dataset for restrictive covenants in July 2020, now we know.

Based on analysis from Pure Property Finance using the HM Land Registry data, there are approximately 41,785 properties with restrictive covenants in Greater London alone. That means, with a population of roughly 9 million and 2.39 people per household, on average you’ll find 1 restrictive covenant for every 90 properties in Greater London.

That may sound like you’re unlikely to come across one, but given the level of restrictions it can impose, it’s crucial to be aware of restrictive covenants if you’re buying or selling. Also, it’s much more common to find restrictive covenants in leasehold properties, i.e. apartments, rather than freehold ones as confirmed by The Law Society.

In this guide I’ll explain what restrictive covenants are, what they do and whether it’s possible to remove them from your property deeds. So, what are restrictive covenants exactly?

Restrictive covenants meaning

In a UK property context, restrictive covenants are legal limitations placed on the title deeds – for example, by a previous owner. Other parties setting restrictive covenants can include housing developers and property management companies.

These limitations restrict what the current owner can do with the land or property – restrictive covenants are a binding agreement between past and present owners.

The purpose is usually to maintain the character and value of either one sole property or a group of properties, such as an estate.

Regardless of how many times the property changes hands, the new owner is still bound by the existing restrictive covenant.

Examples of restrictive covenants

Covenants can be both ‘negative’ – i.e. imposing restrictions – and ‘positive’, in other words, specifying something that the current owner must do. For example, a positive covenant could instruct you to paint the property exterior every few years.

But it’s arguably much more common to have ‘negative’ ones, setting limits or restrictions. A restrictive covenant could impose limits on a homeowner’s plans to build or extend – for example:

  • Building beyond a certain height
  • Limitations on additional structures e.g. sheds or swimming pools
  • Restrictions on extensions or converting the property into multiple dwellings

Similarly, there may be limits to property alterations, such as:

  • Limitations on external modifications e.g. paint colour or location of satellite dishes
  • Requirements for maintaining the property exterior in a certain condition
  • Limitations on internal renovations without consent

Some restrictive covenants impose rules for how the current owner can use the property – with, for example:

  • Restrictions on running a business from the property
  • Limits on the type or number of pets allowed
  • Restrictions on causing noise or nuisance to neighbours

It’s also common to see a restrictive covenant with restrictions on the type or number of vehicles you can park in front of a property, or on access to some parts of the land.

How do I find out what restrictive covenants are on my property?

There are a few different ways to find out if a UK property has a restrictive covenant. If you’re buying a property, it’s the responsibility of your conveyancer or solicitor (lawyer) to identify and bring any restrictive covenants to your attention.

If you’re the current property owner, read through the title deeds, part of the paperwork you received when purchasing the property. Look for a section on restrictions.

If you can’t locate it:

  • Find your property online using the Land Registry website search feature, which will confirm whether there are any restrictive covenants, but won’t say what they are
  • Click on ‘view available documents’ and buy the title register for a small fee, usually only £3.

The title register will either provide the full details about any restrictive covenants, or mention where you can learn about them in a different document.

What happens if you break or breach a restrictive covenant?

Many restrictive covenants are legally enforceable (I’ll mention those that you can challenge, theoretically, in the next section). If you breach one, but didn’t know it was in the property deeds, that won’t count as a valid excuse.

So, as a hypothetical example, what would happen if you started adding another storey, potentially taking your property beyond a height restriction set out as a restrictive covenant?

A party setting the restrictive covenant – for example, a homeowners’ association – can take legal action against you. They could seek a court order and if they win the case, the court might order an injunction, as confirmed by Nelsons Solicitors.

This forces you to stop whatever action breaches the covenant and you might also be liable to pay compensation for any losses suffered by the other party due to your breach.

Can you remove a restrictive covenant?

Many restrictive covenants exist for specific reasons, determined by a party with a say in the matter – for example, a property management company.

In such cases, there’s no set process you can follow that will guarantee the successful removal of a restrictive covenant.

Of course, in this particular scenario, you could try asking the property management company to remove the restrictive covenant – but again, their decision is out of your control.

However, not every restrictive covenant is enforceable – if the covenant is unreasonable or outdated, it may not hold up in court. A solicitor can advise you on the validity of a specific restrictive covenant.

Should that be the case, you can apply to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) and ask to change or remove the restrictive covenant. That’s a principle of the Law of Property Act 1925 which gives the court power to rule that:

  • Due to changes in the property, neighbourhood or other circumstances, the restrictive covenant is obsolete
  • Its continuation would prevent reasonable use of the land
  • Beneficiaries of the restrictive covenant agree to modify or discharge it, with no harm done

But bear in mind that this process is not a straightforward solution for how to get around restrictive covenants – it would take time and incur costs.

Final thoughts – restrictive covenants: Property considerations

If you’re a first time buyer, make sure your conveyancer or solicitor confirms that they’ve reviewed whether or not the property you’re purchasing has restrictive covenants.

If it does, they should tell you what you can or cannot do with the property, long before you complete the purchase.

It is possible to buy indemnity insurance covering your for potential breaches of restrictive covenants. But of course, this comes at a cost.

For maximum reassurance, before taking out any major property renovation work, know your position and what you’re entitled to do. On a similar subject, find out if you need planning permission for a loft conversion.

I hope you found this article useful. Elsewhere on the Fine Living blog there are plenty of other articles to help you as a property owner or buyer.

If you have any questions or would like to ask about a property in the Fine Living portfolio, we are here for you! Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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