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How deed restrictions and zoning affect homes

One of the most invisible items in a real estate transaction are the rules governing the use of the home itself.

There are “rules” that may be present that can dramatically affect your ability to use it. Those sets of rules may be the zoning, deed restrictions, or if you are looking at a condominium, they are called the Condominium Rules and Docs. Most people are aware that condo rules exist, but most don’t think about the deed restrictions or zoning on single-family homes.

Let’s start with condo rules. Most prospective condo owners are aware that there are rules about parking, pets and using the exterior common areas. Realtors regularly present the restrictions as part of the showing and have buyers sign a receipt showing the buyers have them. This is just good business; buyers need to know the rules.

Homes feel different and to some degree they are treated different. When a developer puts in a subdivision, they can attach to the deed a series of rules about the type and size of the homes to be built, the general exterior building materials, whether large trucks or boats may be stored outside or how large a garage might be. These are designed to keep a general consistency of the homes in the neighborhood. While they are not enforced by law or government, homeowners associations might enforce the deed restrictions through civil courts. Generally deed restrictions are more restrictive than zoning laws.

Zoning laws are created and enforced by local governments. They might dictate that no commercial businesses may publicly operate in a residential neighborhood, or that a landowner cannot split his property without zoning approval, or homes must not exceed a certain height or be a minimum size. Fences are a source of much zoning conflict. Perennial questions such as can they go on the property line, must they be inside the line, how high can they be, what materials can be used and must I get a permit to install one are commonly asked and a common source of contention between neighbors. Most cities and townships publish their zoning laws on the web, so go online and look at their zoning regulations before you buy.

Sometimes zoning is in conflict with deed restrictions. There are a few housing developments with lots along streets that eventually became commercial thoroughfares. The deed restrictions say that no public business shall operate in the homes, while the zoning says that commercial offices are legal. In these rare (but all too real) instances, sometimes they must be settled in court.

Realtors know that how you use your home is very important to you. When looking at any property — condo, home or commercial property — be sure to ask about any deed or zoning restriction. Call the local building or zoning official and ask about the zoning and uses. Realtors work closely with title companies who will research the deed, all in an effort to make sure you know exactly what you are buying, and know how you can use it.

This article was provided by the Warren Area Board of Realtors.

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