Written by property expert Kate Faulkner
A covenant is a condition, set by the seller, which dictates what a homeowner can or can’t do when living or owning a property. They typically protect the original owner and/or their neighbours. Sometimes they may not be enforceable, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Learn more about property covenants.
If a covenant does apply to the property you are looking to buy, the information will appear on the title deeds and you can either find this out before you make an offer, or your property lawyer should let you know when carrying out their conveyancing.
To ensure mistakes aren’t made, it's essential to advise your property lawyer of your current and future use of the property. For example, you might plan to live in the home for a few years, then let the property short or long term. They can make you aware if a covenant will prevent you from doing this.
16 covenants found on property title deeds
Don’t make alterations to the property without consent
This type of covenant may be on an old or ex-council property, but it’s more likely to be on a newer property built by a developer, especially if it is a leasehold house. If you want to make alterations to the property, make sure you ask the property lawyer to check if there are any covenants – or other restrictions – that may mean you can’t make the alterations you wish or you will incur additional costs if you do.
Alternatively it’s likely to be found in a property which is a leasehold flat, where although they typically won’t ‘unreasonably’ withhold consent, it may be that the freeholder is responsible for the changes. Areas like the roof, windows and communal areas are usually owned and controlled by the freeholder and expected to be managed by them.
Some covenant restrictions can even include not laying laminate or wooden flooring to reduce the chance of becoming an annoying ‘noisy neighbour’.
Even if consent is given, check first whether you will be charged for making the changes!
Don’t park caravans, boats or commercial vehicles on the property
When some residential areas were created, to ensure they retain their look and feel, bans on large vehicles being parked on the driveway were put in place. To some buyers this will seem unfair, whereas to others, they may feel this is a good protection for the area and avoid losing any light which vans can block.
Reducing the look of the area may not seem that important, but remember that it may impact on the value of the homes around you as it will make them less pleasing to potential buyers.
Alternatively, a covenant may state that the vehicles are allowed, as long as they are able to be hidden from view.
Don’t put your washing outside
This may seem ridiculous, but it has been seen on title deeds in the past. If you love hanging out your washing to dry in the fresh air, this is one to be aware of!
Again however, a covenant may state that you can hang it out, as long as it can’t be seen by your neighbors.
Don’t use the property for any trade or business.
Similar to keeping residential areas free from unsightly commercial vehicles, some properties and estates have restrictions on them which prevent you from running a business from your home – especially if it requires a sign outside and will generate lots of traffic coming and going from the property.
Don’t erect satellite dishes
Some relatively new developments can have a covenant which prevents you from adding a satellite dish to keep the development looking as good as possible while they are still selling properties. However, this can continue to be enforceable after the developer has sold all the properties and can even be enforced by neighbours once the developer has moved on.
Don’t build another property on the land
Some properties with ample land may be sold with a restriction to prevent the plot having other homes being built in the garden.
Even if there isn’t a covenant, if you are buying a property with land and hoping to build or extend, always check with the local authority whether they would be happy for you do so.
Don’t cause a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours
This can be a helpful condition for all buyers and sellers it applies to as it means you are both protected from noisy neighbours, which can include noise from building works. However, it can be difficult to prove and expensive to enforce if you – or your neighbours/freeholder – have to go to court.
Limit on the number and/or type of animals that can be kept at the property
Typically, most leasehold flats prevent you from having pets, although some will allow small ones, even dogs and cats.
Probably the most surprising ban is on keeping chickens as they come under ‘livestock’ which is a restriction seen on quite a few properties. Part of the reason is the noise that chickens can make as well as the mess they can create in a beautiful garden, should they escape!
If you are thinking of having any livestock, chickens or even bees, check you can and speak to the neighbours first.
Don’t Airbnb or let your home as a holiday let
This covenant is increasingly being applied to properties, especially in blocks of flats, to ensure that the area remains residential, rather than become a short term stay for strangers.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to share all the information about how you intend to use the property now and in the future with your property lawyer, so you don’t get caught out buying a property you then need to sell.
Don’t use as an HMO (house in multiple occupation), let out for commercial or residential use
Similar to holiday lets, other types of lets may have a covenant that prevents you from letting the property or planning requirements. For example, letting rooms in a property such as a student let. This maybe restricted either by a covenant or national and local authority planning law.
Don’t erect fences in front gardens
Some areas were designed to have ‘open’ front gardens so you aren’t allowed to erect a fence in the front garden. The idea is often to keep the properties looking uniform with one another to keep their value.
Specific front door requirements (e.g. paint colour)
As with erecting fences, to keep the area looking consistent, all residents may need to use the same colour paint for their front door.
Be aware too, if you buy a leasehold flat and want to change the front door, because this can impact on the fire safety of the building, you may have to abide by a certain specification, so check with your freeholder first and secure their approval in writing.
Slightly more unusual covenants to look out for!
The properties in the UK can date back hundreds of years – and so can the covenants – so there are some quite strange covenants that property lawyers have come across including:
- Not doing anything that creates a loud noise, such as playing music at certain times of the day
- Having to pay an amount to a local charity
- Not being able to sell ‘liquor’
- Not to do anything ‘illegal or immoral’
And in certain locations there can even be very specific covenants such as not to run a chocolate factory from the land if there is one nearby!
Over and above covenants, be aware of what a search can throw up, including a chancel check. Some properties also come with a responsibility to contribute or pay for the upkeep of a local church which are referred to as ‘chancel repair liability’. Due to new rules this is less likely to be an issue today as it’s more transparent, however, it’s not extinct.
Many homes are sold and lived in as people wish, but some have restrictions that could mean you should never offer on the property as it wont suit your lifestyle.
Alternatively, some covenants can be worrying, such as ‘not working from home’ (especially following the pandemic), but typically actually mean something different, like not to have people coming and going from your home. This is where it’s better to have a legal expert to advise you.
Make sure you ask the estate agent about known covenants – in writing – if you are thinking about an offer and then if an offer is accepted, ask your property lawyer to check for anything that may mean that although the property appears perfect, the restricted covenant place on it could mean you need to walk away.