Most of us will be aware that we have restrictive covenants attached to our property deeds. But with those deeds usually being lodged with our banks, building societies or solicitors how many residents are au fait with the specifics of those covenants?
The primary purpose of the restrictive covenants, which originally date back to the late 1920’s, is to maintain the estate’s “value as a high class residential estate”. This quote is taken directly from the covenants and is an aim we surely all share. We all rely on each resident’s sense of responsibility, community and the shared objective of ensuring that the estate remains a desirable place to live in, to ensure compliance with the restrictive covenants. The covenants are just a sensible means to this end.
Looking around the estate you may see instances where you believe covenants have been broken and you may wonder what is the stance of the Directors of GGEL to such breaches. You could be considering carrying out improvements to your property and be concerned as to how the covenants may impact on your plans. These points and other comments addressed to the Board recently indicate that it would be timely for the Board to clarify its thinking and policies with respect to the covenants and any breaches. This document seeks to do just that.
Some of the covenants may seem dated; for example, it is to be hoped that none of us intends to burn clay, lime or bricks in breach of covenant! In other instances, covenants have perhaps not kept up with the changing times. In such cases the directors intend as a matter of policy and legal advice to allow some flexibility in enforcement for the time being, subject to GGEL’s permission being sought as necessary and its specified requirements being met. GGEL does, however, reserve the right to enforce them at some time in the future should circumstances change
With the above we seek to take a helpful line whilst at the same time protecting the estate. One exception to this would be monetary debts to GGEL, such as road maintenance charges. Breach of the duty to contribute annually to maintaining the roads in good and safe condition is obviously against common sense and a selfish refusal to do so is highly unpopular. These could be pursued through the County Court (small claims track) though hopefully this will never prove necessary and we will take into consideration the cost/benefit of taking legal action.
At this point we want to make it very clear that this document is a statement of policies. It is designed to inform you how the Board will endeavour to act in defence of its assets and of the interests of all residents. It is laid out for easy reference but it is in no way a legal document varying rights and obligations.
You should, of course, make a point of keeping safely for yourself and your successors any formal permission from GGEL granting a waiver of a particular covenant with it.
To turn to the covenants. These are summarised below in plain language and italics, with explanatory notes and GGEL’s policy line inset. The vast majority of properties have identical covenants, but there are some with minor differences; you would have to consult your own documents for the specific wording and to see if there are any variations from the “standard”.
There are eight main groups of restrictive covenants, many of which are sub-divided into several do’s and don’ts:
Restrictive covenant 1
The number of dwelling houses is specified, usually one per plot but in some cases more are permitted
In the 20’s and 30’s several plots were parcelled together and sold as one lot with a stipulation as to how many houses in total might be erected. GGEL will rely on Planning Rules and Green Belt regulations as well as its important legal rights arising from its ownership of the private verges and roads (over which access roads and services would need to pass) to prevent over-development of the estate and to allow only one house per plot..
The minimum build cost of new houses is specified usually between £500-1500.
A dated provision not relevant to the present day.
Plans, drawings and elevations must be approved by the Surveyor of the Vendors.
GGEL will seek to ensure that any new building work is sympathetic (in both size and style) to the established tenor of the estate.In addition to its powers under the covenants it will also make representations to the Planning Authority in appropriate instances.
No building or structure exceeding a height of four feet above ground level may be erected in front of the building line without the written approval of the Vendor’s Surveyor.
The building line on your property can usually be found on the conveyance plan attached to your deeds. If unavailable you could view the documents held by GGEL or apply to HM Land Registry for the relevant plan. GGEL will seek to enforce this covenant strictly through the Planning process.
Restrictive Covenant 2
The property may only be used as a private dwelling house.
GGEL recognises that modern technology encourages many to work from home and therefore this covenant will be applied reasonably for the time being. It will not condone signs being erected advertising a business run from the property, or businesses which visually or otherwise detract from the high-class nature of the estate, or which cause nuisance to neighbours; these could include noisy, late night operations or excessive parking on the road outside.
Many such businesses require Planning or other permissions. GGEL requires to be consulted when it is intended to run a business so that it can assure itself that no breach or nuisance is likely to arise.
Additional structures are limited to a garage, stabling, one poultry house and one shed for gardener’s tools.
Stabling and poultry houses would be disliked by many on account of noise and smell; there may be Planning regulations involved.
GGEL is prepared to look sympathetically upon sensibly located structures such as greenhouses, summerhouses and swimming pools and their ancillary pump rooms etc subject, of course, to any Planning restrictions. The criteria for approval would include the absence of any adverse impact upon neighbours and the use of good quality materials where the structure is dearly visible. Appropriate screening may provide an acceptable solution to a specific location.
Roofing material must be dark burnt clay tiles, wood shingles or thatch.
GGEL will accept modern equivalent materials where it is difficult or impractical to obtain the precise materials specified, but the guiding rule would be that any variations, particularly in colour, need to be in keeping with the high-class nature of the estate and not visually intrusive.
Wireless poles must be fixed upright and of straight and solid material.
A dated requirement pre-dating television!
You must not do or permit to be done anything whatsoever which shall be or may become dangerous or a nuisance or disturbance to the occupiers or residents on the estate or which may tend to depreciate its value as a high-class residential estate.
This is a common sense catch-all restriction very much in the interests of residents and it is GGEL’s intention to enforce this in a reasonable manner.
No earth, clay, lime or bricks may be burnt or made.
This restriction does not apply to garden waste being burnt; with this common-sense and good neighbourliness will continue to be the watchwords.
No washing to be hung in a position to be seen from adjacent plots and all washing must be within a trellis screen.
It is reasonable to expect that washing does not become an eyesore for neighbours. GGEL will look for the installation of some appropriate effective screening where it appears offensive.
Restrictive Covenant 3
Fences are to be erected and maintained around properties on the sides specified on the plot plan. No close fence or wall is permitted except a dwarf wall not exceeding 3ft. 6 in. and brick piers at the entranceway. Only open post and rail or post and wire, wood or iron fences with or without netting can be erected. No fence in front of the building line may exceed 3ft. 6in. in height.
When the original covenants were drafted the intention was clearly to discourage high walls and fences which can give an over powering impression to neighbours and detract from the open and rural character of the Estate. It is believed that residents would still wish to retain this open and rural character.
The original wording of the covenants appears to be somewhat ambiguous in respect of fences behind the building line but is much clearer in respect of fences in front of the building line and along the front boundary where the maximum height is not to exceed 3 feet 6 inches. The maximum height of hedges however is not specified.
Should anyone wish to erect a wall or fence in potential breach of the covenant dealing with fences whether in front of, or behind the building line, the permission of GGEL must be sought. The resident planning to erect such a fence/wall is encouraged to discuss the proposal with the neighbour/s most affected before seeking GGEL permission as GGEL will always canvass views of those neighbours likely to be affected before granting any waiver to the covenant.
It is recognised that security is a growing concern of residents and some wish to make their property more secure by erecting stronger barriers on the borders than are permitted in the covenants. Many properties have grown high hedges, some screening fences, by erecting chain link or similar open fence material behind or within the hedge, which improves security and privacy. This is the company’s preferred solution but it will consider sympathetically plans for fences or walls provided the overall appearance is not overpowering or detracts from the estate and hedges or plants are grown to soften and possibly screen the fence over time.
If agreed GGEL will write to the resident granting a waiver so that any future enquiry raised by solicitors when a property is sold clearly shows that the company had granted such a waiver
The covenants do not specify the style or type of gate to be erected. If a resident proposes to erect a gate in excess of 3 feet 6 inches the company encourages residents to erect open iron or wooden bar gates rather than solid wood gates as the latter can have an overpowering effect and detract from the character of the estate.
(Revised March 2006)
A trellis 6ft. 6in. high with lower part of solid boarding to a height of 3ft. will be allowed to hide kitchen quarters.
A dated requirement and unlikely to be enforced.
Restrictive covenant 4
No hut, shed, caravan, house on wheels intended for sleeping or living in shall be allowed.
GGEL feels strongly about this as with anything else that spoils the appearance of this high quality estate.
There are already some breaches of the restriction where caravans and RV’s are parked in driveways. Subject to permission being sought, GGEL, for the time being, may give approval for caravans and RV’s to be parked on the property, but not lived in, provided that they are so located or are adequately screened in such a manner as to be substantially invisible from the roadways or unobtrusive on the view of neighbours. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis with the views of neighbours being taken into consideration
No show booths, swings, roundabouts or hoardings are permitted.
An unlikely eventuality, but the directors are sure that residents would want this enforced. Subject to obtaining its permission, GGEL could accept these for strictly one-day charity or anniversary events.
No advertisements except normal For Let / For Sale signs.
GGEL will enforce this restriction. Residents will have noticed that there is a widely respected unwritten rule against “For Sale” signs as signalling a certain lack of desirability of the estate.
Restrictive Covenant 5
No roadways are to be formed other than those on the estate plan and a private roadway to give access to properties.
Roadways on the estate plan are The Downs, Garden Close etc. Should you wish to change the existing access or to open up a second driveway to your property, you are reminded that GGEL’s permission is required, and that, if granted, a charge for this extra easement would be made (based on a surveyor’s opinion at the owner’s cost).
Restrictive Covenant 6
The purchaser of the property, and successors in title, shall undertake to pay a proportionate amount of the cost of the upkeep of the roads.
Clearly the roads have to be maintained or they will quickly fall into disrepair. All residents use the roads and it is only proper that all should contribute the modest sums for their upkeep. Failure to pay one’s share causes great resentment among neighbours not so parsimonious and creates unnecessary un-neighbourly feelings.
The directors will decide the actions to be taken in the event of non-payment. These could include action in the County Court to recover unpaid arrears (with its possible repercussions on credit rating), or, on the sale of the property, GGEL will make it clear to purchasers that there are arrears of payments which it reserves its rights to pursue.
Restrictive Covenant 7
Property owners are responsible for damage caused by persons delivering construction materials, and for damage done to roads, paths and verges during construction work, and must repair such damage promptly.
This is increasingly common. All too often the unfortunate outcome of improvement of one owner’s property is that the environment of many others is spoiled, with the resultant negative impact on the appearance of the estate as a whole. GGEL will seek to enforce the covenant in appropriate cases.
No vehicle of a gross weight of over 4 tons, including load, or one ton load to each driving road wheel shall be allowed to use the estate roads.
Heavy lorries are probably the greatest cause of damage to GGEL’s roads and verges. That said, the difficulties of owners to enforce this restriction on construction/delivery vehicles are appreciated. But there is a clear liability on the owner to ensure, both by monitoring and contractually, that roads and verges are not damaged. The Board has produced a guidance document for use by Building contractors’ vehicles to minimise such dislocation and damage.
Restrictive Covenant 8
A “saving” covenant permitting the vendor to dispose of or deal with any part of the estate free from stipulations/restrictions etc.
A restrictive covenant that GGEL would not seek to enforce for the time being.
In addition to the eight “standard” restrictive covenants summarised in plain language above, it is known that some properties have additional restrictive covenants specific to them alone. These may include restrictions on cutting down trees over a specified girth, providing rights of access to maintain fences, drains etc., or may specify that views should not be obstructed. Most of these came into being when large plots were subdivided and the original owner wished to ensure that his or her surroundings were not adversely affected by the new buildings or altered sight-lines. A check of the title deeds would be worthwhile to ascertain the existence of specific covenants. Such covenants are not a matter for GGEL.
The Board does not, for the time being, intend to enforce existing breaches of covenant relating to additional structures, roofing material and fences; but unless such breaches are recorded and approved by GGEL in writing, listing the circumstances and conditions, if any, under which the continuation of the breach is condoned, it reserves its right to do so at a later date.
This document has been prepared after consultation with the company solicitor. We hope that its common sense approach will appeal to residents. Should you have any queries please feel free to contact the GGEL Company Secretary.