A reader recently expressed surprise and dismay about what she called a “deed exclusion clause” that restricted what she could do on her property. Likely, she was referring to the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), a set of rules that govern how a group of properties will be used and maintained. The goal of CC&Rs is usually to maintain property values by assuring everyone adheres to the same standards.
If you think about it, you know when you’re moving from a high-end neighborhood to a neighborhood that isn’t as nice. Houses get smaller and closer together. Some houses show signs of disrepair with broken windows or peeling paint. You may find placards warning people to keep out. Cars up on blocks may be visible from the street. Sometimes neighborhoods start off safe and well-maintained, but they decline over time. CC&Rs are designed to prevent—or at least slow—that decline.
In the 1960s and before, CC&Rs were sometimes used to exclude people of color. Thankfully, those have since been outlawed and any that remain on the books are unenforceable. Interestingly, our office recently lost a sale on a home because a prospective buyer learned of the ethnicity exclusion that once existed in the neighborhood they were considering. Although the exclusion was no longer valid, the idea of owning a home where neighbors had once blocked families of color was enough for them to look elsewhere.
These days, CC&R exclusions are focused on maintaining the desirability of a given neighborhood. They commonly restrict RVs from being parked in the driveway, installing fencing to enclose the front yard, choosing a color of house paint outside the approved color scheme, having certain types of animals, or building structures too close to a property line. They can also restrict the size and types of structures, such as preventing modular homes or requiring homes to meet a minimum square footage. If there are views to be had, some CC&Rs restrict adding a second or third story. Conformity to size and style—and maintaining views—prevents wild individualism from lowering the value of surrounding homes.
CC&Rs are usually established when a subdivision is first developed. Local homeowners then enforce the standards via a volunteer board of directors. As years go by, those boards dissolve and no one really pays too much attention unless the house next door starts falling into disrepair or neighbors decide to paint their house neon pink. The exception to this pattern is road maintenance agreements (RMAs), which are generally enforced. This portion of the CC&Rs should be examined in detail. RMAs are critical and can be very expensive, especially in rural subdivisions which may have long, privately owned roads or bridges.
If you are in the market to buy a home, be sure to take note of the CC&Rs, because regardless of whether others are adhering to them or not, you are legally bound by them once you own the property. It would be a bummer to end up in court because you didn’t realize you couldn’t bring your goats with you to your new home.
CC&Rs are public records. You can ask your Realtor for a copy or go to the Mendocino County Recorder’s Office and look up your CC&Rs (or anyone else’s for that matter).
If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.