All municipalities have land use requirements and controls to which landowners are made subject. These take the form of by-laws and zoning requirements. In addition to those put in place by government, the law also allows further controls to be registered against property by landowners themselves, which provide or restrict what kinds of activities can be carried out on that land. These are known as restrictive covenants.
In regards to residential properties, restrictive covenants are most commonly put in place by the original developer of the overall project. The general purpose is to provide rules and guidelines which are designed to improve the quality of life of the owners in the community, and help ensure properties in a community are kept up to a certain standard. They are enforceable against the property by other landowners in the community, so a breach of a covenant can carry legal consequences if your neighbours are upset enough by the breach. However, some restrictions can be burdensome on homeowners, or not allow you to use the property in the way you intend. It is always important, prior to placing an offer to purchase on any residential property, to review the title and any restrictive covenants to which the property may be subject.
Here are a few examples of restrictions to look out for:
1) Acreages and “Rural Residential” properties in a subdivision or development often have restrictions on title that usually include the number and type of animals you can keep on your property, what permanent structures aside from the residence, if any, you can build, and the maximum size of any additions or extensions to the existing home. I have had many clients over the years seek to purchase these properties with major plans to house a plethora of different farm animals, only to learn that they cannot in fact do so when we examine the restrictive covenants for them.
2) Urban properties in newer communities almost always have restrictions which govern the height of fences, and what materials they must be made from. Other restrictions often include bans on satellite dishes or antennas, clotheslines, and restrictions on the number of pets. One major restriction which catches many buyers off guard, particularly when purchasing in newer communities, are bans on the parking of recreational vehicles on their property.
3) Rural and development land commonly have setback requirements for how close residences or other permanent structures can be to adjacent properties, municipal roads, highways, and crown lands.
The wording in restrictive covenants is often dense or difficult to understand, since they are most commonly drafted by lawyers. If you are unsure about the effect of a registration on title to a property you are buying, it is always best practise to have your realtor or lawyer review the language to make sure you are going into any transaction with a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities.
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An Associate Lawyer at Beaumont Church LLP in Calgary, Dan Hawkwood comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers in the Calgary area and brings the experience of his rural upbringing to his practice.