Ohio Farmer

When buying land, beware of restrictive covenants

Country Counsel: A landowner can restrict certain future uses of the land.

Robert Moore

October 21, 2022

4 Min Read
Large wind turbine in a cornfield
RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS: Restrictive covenants can be used for farmland, as well as residential properties. An example might be that a landowner agrees to sell the farm next to his residence on the condition that restrictive covenants do not allow wind turbines to be built on the farm.ehrlif/Getty Images

“Restrictive covenants” is legal jargon for limits placed on the use of land. While most people have never heard of restrictive covenants, it is an important concept in real estate law, and some familiarity with the concept can be useful when buying or selling real estate. Learning about restrictive covenants after you have bought them can be a difficult lesson learned.

The concept of restrictive covenants is that a landowner can restrict certain future uses of the land. In simple terms, a landowner can agree to sell land to a buyer with the condition that the land is not used for certain purposes or in certain ways. Courts will generally uphold restrictive covenants provided they are not contrary to public policy and not discriminatory (restrictions based on race, ethnicity, religion or other protected classes).

Restrictive covenants are often used on residential developments. The restrictive covenants help ensure the land is used in a manner consistent with residential use. 

For example, a developer buys a farm and splits it into 5-acre lots. When the developer split the land into lots, he attached restrictive covenants stating the lots could only be used for residential purposes, and specifically no commercial construction. The restrictive covenants make the lots more attractive to potential buyers as they know they will not need to worry about commercial buildings being built on the adjacent lot to their new house.

While restrictive covenants are more common with residential properties, they can be used for farmland as well. An example might be that a landowner agrees to sell the farm next to his residence on the condition that restrictive covenants do not allow wind turbines to be built on the farm.

Individual or encompassing restrictions

Restrictive covenants can be between individuals or run with the land. A restrictive covenant that runs with the land means it will be binding upon the future owners of the land. Sometimes a restrictive covenant may be personal to individuals and not be binding on future owners.

For example, using the above scenario, a landowner could have a restrictive covenant that states as long as he is living in the residence, no wind turbines can be built, but if he is no long living in the residence, the restrictive covenants terminate.

For restrictive covenants to be enforceable, the owner of the land subject to the restrictive covenants must know about the restrictive covenants. Sometimes, the deed itself will include the restrictive covenants or make a reference to them. 

However, more commonly, the restrictive covenants are recorded, and no mention is made in future deeds. Even if a future deed does not reference the covenants, as long as the covenants are recorded, the landowner is on “constructive notice.” That is, the law says the landowner has a duty to research the title and to find the restrictive covenants. 

Using the lot split example above, the developer recorded the restrictive covenants on all the lots when he split them. A lot gets bought and sold several times, and none of the deeds mention the restrictive covenants. A future owner is still likely to be subject to the restrictive covenants even though they did not actually know about them because there was “constructive notice.” The future owner could have found the restrictive covenants in a title search.

Finding restrictive covenants is one of several reasons a title search should be performed when purchasing real estate. A title search should find any restrictive covenants on the real estate. You do not want to find out about a restrictive covenant after you have bought the property. 

Additionally, buying title insurance should be considered to provide protection in the event the restrictive covenants are not found in a title search and end up limiting the use or value to the buyer.

The next time you are buying real estate, get a title search and keep in mind that if you ever want to sell or transfer land but want to include some conditions on future use, consider adding your own restrictive covenants. You will want to work with an attorney to make sure the restrictive covenant is worded correctly and property recorded so it will be binding of future owners.

Moore is an attorney with Wright & Moore Law Co. LPA. Contact him at 740-990-0751 or [email protected].

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