Restrictions unknown for six years

by Bev
(Rowan county, NC)

Visitor Question: Hi

We purchased our home six years ago. We were told by our real estate agent (friend) and the sellers (new friends) that there were no restrictions on the property.

A few months ago we bought a storage building. We asked our most "curious" neighbor if there were any restrictions. She told us she didn't think so but referred us to a neighbor who had lived there longer. He said there was something a long time ago, but he thought it had probably expired.

So here we are six years later and we receive a friendly note from our neighbors saying we're breaking the covenant by my son having a business at our home. He has been doing this for six and we've never tried to keep it a secret.

Also someone called the county to investigate, and he said there were no restrictions registered and we weren't doing anything wrong.

We try to be good neighbors... helping mow yards, filling potholes, helping trim neighboring trees. We're just confused and aren't sure what to do.

Editors Reply: In the long run, your neighborly behavior will be rewarded. However, deed restrictions are more about rules than neighborliness.

Here is the most important piece of advice. You yourself should check with your county government to obtain an actual copy of your deed restrictions. That is how you will know for sure. I always advise people to go physically to the county office that records deeds; that way, they cannot be ignored. But of course if you cannot manage that due to work and other obligations, a phone call will be better than nothing.

Before you spend some money reimbursing them for copying (as will be required in most states), scan through to make sure that these restrictions did not expire long ago. Ask the county employee to double check you on that also.

If someone thought there were restrictions, but these are not recorded, they cannot bind you. Sometimes a developer gives sort of an oral set of instructions to original buyers in a subdivision, which they may think carry the force of law, but unless written down and recorded, those don't count.

It also is possible that if you live in a place where there is zoning, it is the zoning law that is prohibiting the home based business, so do check on that possibility too. If you don't know if there is a zoning law, ask the county, or if you live within the city limits, ask the city.

Another thing that could have happened is that the restrictions include a covenant setting up a homeowners association or equivalent body that then has the power to make enforceable rules. In that case, you have to chase down the homeowners association officers to find out if they have a rule against your son's business.

To be clear, if the deed restrictions do not give the HOA power to make and enforce rules that are not spelled out in the recorded deed restrictions, those rules could not be enforced.

Your situation is not overly complicated, so follow these steps for peace of mind. Then ignore what someone else says or thinks.

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