Often times when people think of covenants they think of religious vows or flowery promises between spouses, but usually not real estate. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “a covenant is an agreement or a promise,” which is true in that context, but in real estate terms it can be much more complicated and far reaching than a simple promise between two people, because most covenants are of such a legal nature as to continue in perpetuity no matter who owns the property in the future. Covenants, conditions, or restrictions are usually recorded (at the governing county’s courthouse) on property subdivisions where the developer wishes to create an environment that will remain constant, (at least until they sell all of the lots). People buying properties agree to those conditions because of the assurance that the neighborhood will remain the same in general value and appearance well into the future, protecting their investment and offering a constant quality of living. Some covenants include restrictions on the quality of construction, uniform building sizes and styles, colors and even the type of roofing materials used. Other restrictions might control neighborhood aesthetics by not allowing boats, motor homes or vehicles to be parked on the street. Some rural subdivisions might disallow certain types of animals such as smelly pigs or noisy geese.

In one instance many years ago, a pious seller recorded a simple covenant on a singular property deed which read, “No spirituous liquids shall be consumed on the premises.” Another fruitless attempt to control post possession activities was filed by a departing property owner on land which had large beautiful trees. The covenant read something like, “No trees shall ever be cut on this property including commercial logging.” In both of these cases it would be virtually impossible to enforce such a decree since only affected property owners (not government agencies) can enforce covenants, but in most cases there are usually multiple properties involved and alert neighbors who have a vested interest in seeing that the covenants are enforced, even if there is no formal home owners association.

Even when covenants are largely ignored and blatantly disregarded by many or all of the affected owners, recorded restrictions do give affected owners the legal teeth to sue the violators for performance. If you don’t have the stomach for conflicts such as this then it might be wise to avoid properties with covenants, since in many cases where such conditions exist, discontent and bad feelings often prevail.