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Deed Restrictions ....... What Are They?

When you buy a lot, you should always verify its zoning. Zoning specifies the maximum height of buildings, how close to the edge of the property you may build, how many buildings and rooms you can have on a particular property, etc. It is easy to find out the zoning of a property on Ambergris Caye by visiting the Town Clerk and asking him to look up your parcel on a master map. But your investigation should not stop with zoning - there may be an additional set of regulations for your property called Deed Restrictions. This article will deal with these regulations and how they might affect you.

What are Deed Restrictions? They are a set of rules and regulations about the use of the land. They are not something legislated by Government nor by the local planning authority, although before they are attached to the land they may have to be approved by a government agency. Deed Restrictions "run with the title to the land" which means that they are a part of your rights and a part of your obligations when you own a property that has them.

Here is an example of a local subdivision with Deed Restrictions, and what they are intended to do. Palmero Point Beach Club is located nine miles north of San Pedro. It was originally a large undivided parcel of land, and was subdivided into residential building lots some years ago. The developers had in mind a subdivision with medium sized lots clustered around large open areas that would be parks or "common areas" for the enjoyment of all owners. They also wanted buyers of these lots to have the assurance that the subdivision would maintain its beauty and its value. They aimed to preserve the views of the lots, and to provide for maintenance of the private roads within the subdivision. Lastly, they built a sizeable pier for general use, and wanted to provide a method by which it would be maintained by all who used it. In order to do all these things, they wrote a set of Deed Restrictions by which all owners of lots within the Club would abide. These restrictions state many things closely resemble local zoning, such as that homes may not exceed two stories in height. They also state many specific things that are not found in zoning - that only one home may be built on each lot; that no lot may be used for commercial purposes; that no house trailers may be permanently placed on the lots; that no junk cars or other garbage would be kept on any lot; and that all owners within the subdivision will contribute equally to the cost of maintaining the roads and the pier. There are a number of other rules - these are simply an example of the type of items the rules addressed. The people who bought lots there were generally very pleased with the Deed Restrictions, since they guaranteed that the area would stay fresh, clean and quiet. These Deed Restrictions gave them the assurance that they would not discover that a noisy business opened outside their bedroom window, or have a fragrant pig farm move in next door. In short, these Restrictions are intended to give owners a high quality community.

There are several groups of lots with Deed Restrictions - Club Caribbean, Spanish Reef, Flying Fisherman, and Playa Blanca are among them (this is not a total list, just a sample). Sellers of properties with Deed Restrictions generally know that they exist, and retain written copies of them. If you are a potential buyer of such a property you should be given a copy of these Restrictions and make your offer contingent on your review and approval of them. These are not hard documents to read and understand. They are generally written in plain every-day language, and will probably make sense to you the first time you read through them. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification. If you like what they say, approve them and keep a copy for your records. If you don't like them, there isn't much you can do about it except not buy - the seller cannot change them to suit you - because they "Run with the title to the land". You may notice that sometimes the zoning allows for more density than the Deed Restrictions. In this case, the Deed Restrictions govern. If however, zoning is more stringent than your Deed Restrictions - for instance, zoning says one story height limit and Deed Restriction says two - then zoning will prevail. One hundred years from now some of the things that seemed important to include in Deed Restrictions may be irrelevant. I once found a set of Deed Restrictions from 1898 for an area in Los Angeles. These rules dealt extensively with where and how you could park your horse and buggy. I have also seen Deed Restrictions that prohibit children from living in certain communities. The former example is irrelevant, and the latter could be illegal depending on where the property is located. In both cases, those items will still surface in research, but probably no longer have any force and effect. If you question the legality of Deed Restriction, ask an Attorney.

If you suspect that there are Deed Restrictions for a property but cannot find out for sure from the Seller, have an attorney or para-legal research the property for you while they are doing the title search. It's not hard to do, and it gives you the information you will need to make an intelligent decision about your purchase.

"By asking questions you can only learn more - it is not possible to learn less."
...... Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the Geodesic Dome.

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