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I know that a title report sounds too boring for words, but you'll still want your attorney to review it with you

Ask your attorney to review the title report with you.

Too boring?

Would you be more excited by learning after you buy it that you can’t expand your house without the developer’s permission? This is a common restriction, or “covenant,” contained in title reports.

A real property covenant is just a promise made by a former owner of your property, concerning its use, that all later owners must honor. Covenants were a simple way to control land use before East Hampton passed its first zoning code (around 1955). Before then, if you sold your friend property near your house, you wanted to restrict your friend’s property use. Typical covenants prohibited such offensive uses as soap factories and brothels. Even if your friend would be a good neighbor, the next owner might not be as obliging. So you recorded a covenant to protect your property.

Once local towns passed zoning codes restricting certain uses to specified areas, the covenants became a bit more sophisticated. If you subdivided property that had been zoned residential, you didn’t worry about a buyer building a factory. But if you are selling 20 vacant lots after subdivision, you wanted to prevent any buyer from building a house that met the zoning code but might hinder the sale of the remaining lots. For example, you might want to ban aluminum siding, flat roofs, or animal pens. You want to convince possible purchasers that an empty subdivision will ultimately reflect the purchaser’s high standards.

Many developers wanted even more control: After dictating a broad outline of the house appearance, many developers insisted on approving the plans and specifications before breaking ground. That ensured consistency among the planned construction. Very often the requirement of plans and specifications approval survives the developer’s sale of the last lot. When the developer then leaves the area, but the covenants remain in place, can you ignore the covenants and build whatever you want? If you’ve already built a house, can you expand it? That answer requires an analysis of the covenants, a review of what’s already been built, a search for homeowners’ associations, and several other factors.

You should know this before you buy the property. And that’s why you want to review your title report. I give all of my clients a digital copy of the title report for their future reference with my comments directing their attention to relevant provisions.

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Roy Greenberg
10 Pantigo Road, PO Box 731
East Hampton, New York 11937-0601

royglaw@optonline.net
phone: 631-324-5120
fax: 631-324-7494