My sister’s family live in London in a prestigious neighbourhood near Greenwich Park. When visiting her one weekend I noticed a washing line hanging outside, and some cars parked on the grass verge in front of the house. As it was very unusual to see this sort of behaviour in this neighbourhood I said to my sister, “it’s surprising that their landlord or estate owner has not imposed restrictions against this.” My sister replied, “I bet they have but I’m sure lots of people do not bother reading their tenancy deed, or read it and forget it.” Property owners or tenants may have little idea of or be indifferent as to what restrictive covenants might restrict the use of their property.
Common restrictions imposed on houses or flats may not be limited only to further development, extensions or alterations to a property, but often extend to prohibiting the number or type of pets and limitations on noise, including music; which may put a damper on any thoughts of practising the electric guitar.
The tenant or property owner must remember that restrictive covenants, such as not hanging washing outside or prohibiting keeping chickens, can be legally enforced. Breaching one can be a costly mistake and result in a very expensive organic omelette. It pays to know if your property is bound by any restrictive covenants so, if necessary, you can protect yourself from being in breach and having to deal with the consequences.
Before I bought my freehold family home on a new estate five years ago, I read all the restrictive covenants but forgot all of them as quickly as I had read them. I am now planning to install some external security cameras. I have read the covenants again and have been reminded that there is a restrictive covenant which binds my property “not to add to or alter any building on the property in any way so as to affect substantially the external appearance without prior written consent”. The installation of the security cameras on the exterior of my house will be visible to all who go past the property and I will need to write to the party/parties with the benefit of the covenant to obtain consent to the installation.
I do not want to be in the same shoes as a homeowner who bought his house on a new estate in Sevenoaks, Kent and was told to remove all external security cameras from his house because of the restrictive covenants imposed by the original developer.
When buying a new home or taking on a lease you should not only ensure that your solicitor highlights any unusual covenants, but also take the time to read through the covenants in detail. If appropriate, you may wish to share your immediate plans, for example, to have few chickens, install cameras or have a music studio, with your solicitor.
If you have a historic covenant on your property that you believe has become obsolete you can make an application to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber), formerly the Lands Tribunal, seeking an order to “discharge” or “modify” the restriction. However, this may take several years and can be costly.