Q. What exactly are covenants?
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A. A covenant is a binding legal obligation that comes with ownership of a particular property. Generally imposed by the original owner, it applies to the property itself and is therefore automatically passed down from owner to owner with the deeds, each time the property changes hands.
Since they are essentially private arrangements between individuals, covenants are not policed by local planning authorities. Instead, they are enforceable through the courts by the granting of an injunction.
Basically, a covenant stipulates specific things that the property-owner either must or must not do. An example of a so-called positive covenant might be an obligation to maintain the boundaries. Examples of typical restrictive covenants, on the other hand, include not being a nuisance to your neighbours and not carrying on any trade or business from the property.
These days, many covenants are little more than historical curiosities, reflecting the concerns of the original owners - often the church - or a way of life that is long gone. An inspection of the original deeds to your own property, for example, may well reveal that you are not permitted to extract water from the land for public sale, or that you are banned from keeping a horse and cart on the premises!
Realistically, of course, there’s probably little if any chance that you’d ever fall foul of such restrictions. Nor would they be likely to cause any major legal complications when it comes to buying or selling. Not all covenants are quite so quaint, however. It is not uncommon for residential estates, for example, to have a range of covenants placed on them by the original developer. These are usually designed to protect the look and amenity of the estate as a whole – for example, by stipulating that all front gardens must be unfenced, or that the parking of caravans is not permitted. Such covenants can be enforced by any resident against any of the others - and they often are.
If you are in any doubt regarding covenants on your property, the best thing to do is check your original deeds and/or consult a solicitor.