Density credit assignment

by Jesse
(Medical lake, Wa)

Visitor Question: I have been living in my home for 4 years. This lady shows up wanting me to sign some legal paperwork "release of covenant and density credit assignment". So I tell her no, I am not interested, and that she will need to work with the county or city to resolve the problem, that I don't want to be involved.

Now I get a letter saying they are taking legal action against me. So first off I am hoping you can tell me what a covenant of density credit is and how releasing my claim to it will affect me and the neighborhood. And second is this something that I need to be worried about, as I want nothing to do with this lady.

Editors Reply: Oh my, with terms such as "covenant of density credit," there are many possible meanings. Since you have placed your question on our page about deed restriction questions, we assume that you think this somehow pertains to a deed restriction or covenant. These two terms essentially mean the same thing for your purposes. Deed restrictions are private agreements, and cities cannot enforce them and most will not get involved with questions about them.

But on the other hand, the term "density credit" is most often associated with either a transfer of development rights program or a density bonus program that only pertains to developers.

"Density" refers to the number of homes (or people) per acre. The common example is that apartment developments are more dense than single-family home subdivisions.

We have written a page that describes a transfer of development rights program. In brief, it is set up by city government (rarely in partnership with a developer or group of developers) to allow people who own land in the path of development to sell their rights to that extra development to someone who wants to build in another place where the city thinks development, or at least more dense development, is desirable.

So you might live in a sending zone of a transfer of development rights program, and the lady at your door might have been trying to get you to forego your right to payment for keeping your land single-family or low density. Or even more likely, since you use the word "assignment," she was trying to get you to sign over your potential credit to her employer.

Step one could be asking your city government if there is any such transfer of development rights program affecting your land one way or the other. If they say it is, ask them to explain the particulars of your situation. The city should be willing to do so, since almost all owners will need explanations of how it works.

Now if the city government says there is no such thing, you have to check out other options. Ask the city what they think it could mean; chances are fairly good they know about this. For instance, if the developer that built your home needs to be assured that you won't divide your lot into two lots and sell one of them off, that developer's representative, or a successor owner of the business, might be trying to get you to waive such a possibility. But even in this case, we think the city would know what is afoot.

If you have neighbors in your same development, by the way, ask them if they have received a similar visit. In fact, you could bake some muffins and have people over for coffee to see what they know.

If none of these things shed any light on the situation, we would just wait to see what happens. If the lady contacts you again, tell her you can't sign anything until you understand it thoroughly. Tell her you want your attorney to review this matter, even if that is a total bluff. It would buy you some time to look into it further.

We can't advise anyone to just forget about it or ignore the situation when legal action is threatened, but without more information, we think your best shot is to talk to your city government.

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