What are title deeds?
Title deeds are paper documents showing the chain of ownership for land and property.¹
As developers, we regularly look at title deeds for properties under consideration for development. Usually, these documents, while unquestionably important, are rather dry.
However, on occasion, some of the more ancient title deeds contain rather unusual restrictive covenants.
What is a restrictive covenant?
A restrictive covenant is 'A provision in a deed limiting the use of the property and prohibiting certain uses'.²
In other words, restrictive covenants are 'binding conditions that are written into a property’s deeds or contract by a seller to determine what a homeowner can or cannot do with their house or land under particular circumstances'.³
Restrictive covenants are included in title deeds in order to uphold standards for all residents, both now and in future.
The most ridiculous restrictive covenants found in real title deeds
The following are actual restrictive covenants found in the title deeds of properties that we have looked at. While some of these are eminently sensible (who would want to live next to a pig farm?), the fact that lawyers felt it necessary to write these into the title deeds seems quite absurd.
In addition, the flowery, old-fashioned language of these older title deeds serves to magnify the ludicrous nature of the restrictive covenants within them. Take a look at these examples and see if you can read them out loud with a straight face…
1. Winnebago woes
One restrictive covenant reads “No caravan or house on wheels other than poultry houses… shall be placed on the property”.
In other words, you can keep chickens on your driveway, but you can’t park your campervan there.
2. Beerhouse ban
Another reads that the purchaser, along with “his heirs and assigns… shall… NOT at any time… use the said premises as a public house or beer house… or carry on any objectionable trade thereon.”
So don’t turn the house into a pub (or a brothel). Got it.
3. Pig prohibition
A third reads that no purchaser shall carry on “any trade or business which is a nuisance or annoyance to the owners or occupiers of the adjoining or neighbouring property and particularly shall not… keep pigs or permit to be kept thereon”.
One would hope that should go without saying, but perhaps this kind of ‘neighbour from hell’ was common in the Edwardian era..?
4. Property pricing
In what was presumably a stipulation that hoped to prevent lowering the tone of the area with ‘riff-raff’, one restrictive covenant reads “The purchaser his heirs executors administrators or assigns shall only erect on said land hereby conveyed detatched or semi-detatched private houses with the appurtenances and the cost of each house shall not be less than five hundred pounds or of each pair of semi-detatched houses shall not be less than nine hundred pounds”.
Try reading that aloud without taking a breath.
Then imagine buying 2 houses for £900 (we can dream…)!
5. Professional promotion
Another restrictive covenant states that (with consent of the estate) “…there may be carried on upon the premises the profession or practice of a physician or surgeon or a learned or artistic profession without any other outward indication thereof than a brass plate covering the space of not more than two feet by one foot”.
No jumbotron for you then doc.
6. Enforced endowments
Finally, one benevolent vendor instructed his lawyer to include the following compulsory annual donations within this restrictive covenant:
The land… is subject to the following charitable charges: –
Harman Atwood’s Almshouse Charity, payable to the Vicar of Warlingham
Harman Atwood’s Endowment Fund, payable to the Vicar of Warlingham
While unusual by today’s standards, this was quite common a century ago and a rather effective way of helping less-fortunate people find accommodation. By having this reoccuring obligatory charitable contribution written into the deeds, local institutions were guaranteed regular income for years to come.
Deeds for many new developments also contain restrictive covenants, such as limiting the purchaser to “no more than two domestic pets”, or ensuring that they do not hang their washing out to dry on the balcony.
While these older restrictive covenants can be chucklesome, they also teach us an important lesson.
Always read the small print in your title deeds!