Covenants, conditions, and restrictions are a common part of our every day lives. CC&Rs exist in residential areas, commercial business complexes, and industrial centers, and they govern our use of property. Some people view CC&Rs as important tools in maintaining community esthetics, privacy, and property values. Others view CC&Rs as unconstitutional restrictions on our right to property. Regardless, any homeowner who lives with CC&Rs should understand the powerful impact they can have on our property and our lives.
What are CC&Rs? CC&Rs are the governing documents that dictate how a homeowners’ association operates and what rules the homeowners — and their tenants and guests — must obey. Generally, CC&Rs control the esthetics of homes and commercial buildings. Can you imagine your neighbor creating a pig farm on his .2 acre lot? Or installing a cellular tower in his backyard? Or what about the neighbor who wants to install a tree-house with a view into your master bedroom? Consequently, CC&Rs are often drafted to prevent the cultivation of farm animals in a residential neighborhood and to impose height and color restrictions on structures within the neighborhood.
In addition, many CC&Rs create a homeowners association (“HOA”) or an architectural control committee (“ACC”). These are different bodies with different functions. Both HOAs and ACCs are usually controlled by property owners within the subdivision or complex. Generally, the HOA is responsible for enforcing the CC&Rs. On the other hand, the ACC is formed to ensure that lot owners can construct new structures, while maintaining the esthetics of the community.
Can CC&Rs be Changed? The answer to this question is “yes.” The procedure for changing the rules should be explained in the CC&Rs. In essence, CC&Rs can be changed much like any contract can be changed. Unfortunately, changing existing rules is rarely easy, as a majority vote of the HOA or, in some cases, a super-majority, is often required.
While most rules are easy to accept, some may strike a nerve. Common problem rules include those relating to pets, parking spaces, recreational facilities, and subleasing. If you run into a problem with the rules, it will likely require you to exert your political influence to convince your neighbors to change the rules. That being said, some CC&Rs contain rules which are unenforceable or illegal, and in those cases it may be necessary to get legal help.
How Can CC&Rs be Enforced? CC&RS are legally enforceable by the HOA or any resident of the community. Consequently, if you violate the CC&Rs, either the HOA or another homeowner can seek to penalize you. Penalties might include fines, forced compliance, a lawsuit, the misery of being at odds with your neighbors, and emotional distress. As such it is very important for you to read the rules thoroughly before you buy an association-governed property.
Ultimately, lawsuits surrounding CC&Rs are never fun as they can be expensive and taxing on the entire community. As such, it is very important for you to read your CC&Rs, especially because in a lawsuit it is no defense that you failed to read the CC&Rs. You may even want to point them out to a neighbor… It could help to prevent a future fight.