Hanging out your smalls might be illegal – What you need to know about a Restrictive Covenant


Buying a home or moving into a new home is reported to be one of the top three most stressful events that an individual can experience, but what happens when a restrictive covenant is added into the mix?

Restrictive covenants are clauses often written into the small print of a lease or title deeds of a property or land and some of them are known to be years, if not centuries old.

These constricting rules can be insignificant and may not appear to affect anyone on the surface such as keeping chickens on your land or hanging out your smalls on the washing line at the front of your property. On the flipside, these documented contracts may be quite substantial when it comes to building another property on your land. Either way they can be and still are imposed.

What you need to consider about restrictive covenants

Violating a restrictive covenant can be costly, so it’s highly recommended to take extra caution and find out whether the property or land you are considering has anything inscribed in the deeds or lease.

If you do discover there is a covenant on your property there are certain procedures you can take if you deem it to have become obsolete. A word of warning though, just because a restrictive covenant may be ancient or irrelevant to you, doesn’t mean it’s not enforceable. Outcomes often come down to perception and interpretation.

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) will consider applications to exonerate or amend restrictions but this process can be lengthy and costly therefore professional advice should always be sought prior to making any such application.

Restrictive covenants on housing estates

Modern covenants can take the form of ensuring an attractive environment from the point of view of housing developers or property managers. Tenants or buyers of flats within housing blocks or on residential estates may be prevented from parking caravans or trailers in their front driveways or erecting satellite dishes on the front of the property. All in all, this is an attempt to uphold curb appeal for prospective buyers or tenants and to preserve a level of ‘value’ to the properties.

What can you do if you have a restrictive covenant?

Many individuals are willing to risk pleading ignorance if caught, especially if there is some level of argument to be found and therefore legal action from the prosecutor side is deemed too expensive to uphold. A ban from keeping livestock on land may be brushed off if a few chickens were penned in the corner plot for example.

It is worth running any decisions past your immediate neighbours because they are more likely to be the instigators of a complaint or report should you break any rules.

Taking out indemnity insurance against a restrictive covenant breach is a viable option but policies can be costly, especially if ‘grey areas’ are presented. Expect to pay anything from a few tens of pounds to a few hundred. The British Property Federation can be a resourceful organisation to talk to.

Essential to-do-list when it comes to restrictive covenants

Your first port of call is to check the title deeds or lease, especially the small print before signing anything. It is particularly important if you wish to change the use of a property or land.

Ask your solicitor to review all relevant documents pertaining and it’s advisable to appoint a specialist property solicitor who will have specific training and experience in restrictive covenants.

It may be worthwhile approaching the organisation that applied the covenant in the first place to discuss an agreeable compromise.

Whatever you decide, restrictive covenants by their very nature can be complex so thorough research and experienced advice must be sought.

If you are considering the purchase or rent of a property and think there may be a restrictive covenant involved please call us on 0800 652 3737 for a free quotation. Alternatively, if you wish to apply a restrictive covenant we are more than equipped to advise effective procedures.