notepad and paper

How Deed Restrictions or Negative Covenants Affect Property Use

Owning real estate, and especially a home, is seen as the American dream that is obtainable by many, and an aspect of American culture that sets it apart from many other countries where property ownership is limited to a select few. Along with the perception that everyone should have the opportunity to own a home is the belief that everyone should be able to use that property any way they wish. The reality, however, especially in dense or developed neighborhoods, is that attached to many property deeds are negative covenants or deed restrictions. Now, the existence of these restrictions is not an absolute barrier to an owner’s enjoyment of his/her property, and in fact, Rochester Hills Attorney John Little successfully challenged a deed restriction so his client could keep her shed to hold her yard tools and equipment. However, it is important to understand what exactly these limitations mean and how one goes about enforcing or challenging their application before you sign on the dotted line to buy a piece of land. Of course, working with a knowledgeable real estate attorney will reduce the likelihood that you would sign not knowing if any limitations on property use existed.

Covenants / Deed Restrictions

Restrictions on the enjoyment of property are typically established in one of three ways.

Deed restrictions are obligations placed in the terms of the deed itself that bind any future buyers to the limitations it imposes. There are also restrictive covenants, which specify property use restrictions that a developer attaches to each plot within a planned development.

Lastly, there are implied negative easements that are created when property is developed using a common plan, which means anyone buying in such a development would be bound to maintain the envisioned uses as originally planned.

Michigan law permits condo developers to include “reasonable restrictions” in the governing documents on use of the common areas and individual units. The only specific limitations on imposing restrictions are they must be consistent with the condo documents generally and not violate the law. What is considered a “reasonable restriction” is debatable. Real estate attorney John Little, who works with clients throughout Southeastern Michigan, is ready to challenge restrictions that put unreasonable restraints on your ability to use your property.


Enforcement of restrictive covenants involves asking for either injunctive relief or money damages. Injunctive relief means the person asking for enforcement wants the other party to perform or refrain from performing a certain action. This could be a situation where a neighbor installs a tire swing in the front yard, and you want it taken down because it violates the neighborhood restrictions. Also, there may be situation where an association is not consistently enforcing its own rules, which is producing unfair results for some in the community. Typically, you sue the condo association on negative covenant enforcement issues, and if successful, can recover costs and attorney fees. Working with an experienced attorney in these legal cases makes success much more likely and can reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Real estate attorney John Little, representing those that live in the vicinity of Farmington Hills, has this experience with enforcing use restrictions and will fight to ensure they are applied fairly.

Get Help

If you are making the decision to buy a new home in a condo development or HOA community, or need to dispute a restriction on property use, getting advice from a seasoned real estate attorney can make the difference in getting a good deal or giving in the status quo. Little & Boylan, PLLC, located in Rochester Hills and nearby cities, represents clients in all types of real estate matters and can help you get the best possible results. Contact him for a free phone consultation at (248) 809-1402.