Restrictive covenants: weird and wonderful property restrictions that lurk in the small print

From limiting rent and lease restrictions to stipulating the colour of a home, restrictive covenants can be found buried deep within the deeds of a property, and breaching them can cause serious financial upset.


But in addition to sensible or common restrictive covenants that protect properties and neighbours from building works or changes to the use of a premises, some are rather more bizarre and date back many years. We’ve rounded up a list of the strangest restrictive covenants that we’ve recently uncovered.


Speaking to the Guardian, Beth Rudolf at the Conveyancing Association reminisces about an Edwardian property in Brighton and Hove in which the owners were prohibited from displaying their washing in “a lewd and lascivious manner”.


Things that were innocuous 130 years ago cause problems now” she commented, citing another example that prevents people from seemingly normal activities these days, “Swindon was a railway town, and many of the houses have covenants saying you can’t keep pigs, poultry or pigeons. Nowadays people want to be able to have a few chickens”.


Similarly, at Lawsure one of our insurers lived in a property in Norwich, which had a restrictive covenant stating “no chickens to be kept on the property and no smut on the roof”. How disappointing, as who doesn’t want smut on their roof?


Others that we’ve come across at Lawsure include “no airing your undergarments in the communal garden”, “no swingers” meaning no use of an outdoor swing rather than its current, more lascivious meaning, no “lunatic asylums” and one in Northern Ireland that restricts use for “good protestant purposes only”.


Restrictive covenants can be dealt with by making an application to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to “discharge” or “modify” the restriction, particularly for those that are believed to be obsolete, but this can be costly and take several years.


Some however prefer to simply ignore restrictions hoping that neighbours, who are the parties most likely to report a breach of covenant, won’t be upset by a few chickens running around in the garden. So it pays to keep them onside by informing them of plans, addressing any concerns and delivering a few eggs to soften the blow.


But if a covenant is breached and enforced then it will have to be undone or a fee paid for it. One particularly costly case involved a solicitor that overlooked a covenant restricting any upwards extension and the owner unknowingly breached it. To resolve the situation the solicitor was ordered to pay £100,000 to the owner. So depending on the level of risk, restrictive covenant indemnity insurance can be a good option to protect against any possible covenant breaches and costly remedial actions.


DISCLAIMER:  Nothing said in this article constitutes legal or other professional advice and no warranty is given nor liability accepted for the contents of this article. LawSure Insurance will not accept responsibility for any loss suffered in consequence of reliance on information contained in the article.