Covenants, conditions and restrictions (more commonly known as CC&R) is a set of rules dictating the acceptable use of property. They are legally enforceable contracts often used to regulate the usage of buildings or neighborhoods governed by a homeowners association (HOA).

What CC&Rs Are and Are Not

CC&Rs are private contracts between the HOA and property owners, and they typically establish standards for maintenance, exterior displays and other use of property. These standards generally help maintain property values and ensure that all residents can enjoy the community equally. CC&Rs are not the same as zoning laws, which are set by local governments, but they are just as legally binding. They may cover some of the same issues as zoning laws, but they may be more restrictive. Zoning laws can regulate safety, but not subjective things like "taste." CC&Rs can impose stricter safety measures than can zoning laws and can also define "good taste" for the entire community.

Typical CC&R Restrictions

Some of the most common things CC&Rs regulate include: - Landscaping, including types of trees or bushes and grass height - House color, including trim - Size and type of outbuildings, like sheds and garages - Pets, including type and size; for example only cats and dogs under 20 lbs - Outdoor decorations, both year-round and holiday - Parking - The definition of "junk," as it applies to items visible in your yard, including items as obvious as cars on blocks and less obvious things like gardening tools or unattractive but functional benches

CC&R Legal Issues

HOAs have a lot of leeway in drafting CC&Rs, and even restricting some legal rights can sometimes be legal. This is because agreeing to CC&Rs is voluntary, and anyone who does not agree can opt not to buy the property. Provisions are most easily enforceable when they have been in effect from the start, ensuring every resident has agreed to them. Changes to CC&Rs may be easier to challenge, depending on how many residents disagree with the changes. CC&Rs do need to comply with the law. For example, discrimination against minority groups is not legal, even in private contracts. Also, enforcing otherwise legal CC&Rs may not be legal under some conditions. For example, a provision that places undue burden on a certain resident may be unenforceable against that resident. Many CC&Rs are written with expiration dates, to account for future changes in the neighborhood. Owners can then vote to extend the CC&Rs after expiration or change them to suit current conditions. A common example occurs in new developments. The developer creates the original CC&Rs, which the HOA then adopts once it assumes control of the development. In some cases, local zoning boards may adopt expiring CC&Rs as zoning laws, making them binding on all homeowners as long as the law remains on the books. If you are looking at property in a development controlled by a HOA, make sure you ask for, read and understand the CC&Rs. You will be bound by these restrictions, even if you are not aware of them so make sure you are aware and that they are acceptable.