Property Restrictions

Local Restrictions

In addition to liens and easements which can be found in the deed and accompanying papers, some restrictions are placed on all properties in the state, city, and township.

Some of the restrictions will be local, or even through a neighborhood committee, but you will be required to adhere to these restrictions as well.  If you have plans to install a satellite television system, the time to find out if you can is before you buy the property, not after.  You should very carefully review any restrictions and consider how they will affect your home and lifestyle.  

Building Codes

Building codes are one type of local restriction which set up minimum public safety standards for designing, constructing, and maintaining buildings.  Most of these restrictions will make good sense, and most will be fairly standard regardless of where you live.  For example, the foundation and footings must be secure and able to support the structure.  There will also be certain restrictions concerning placement and depths of pipes and wires.

It might seem that a local restriction on window size has little to do with plot layout, but if you're wise enough to be considering energy efficiency, this can be a concern in the overall layout.  If the code requires 12 square feet of window for a particular bedroom, should that window face north, south, east, or west?

Restrictions on Appearance

Community restrictions are often meant to preserve the uniformity of a neighborhood.  These restrictions may influence the design of the house and the materials chosen, especially those that "skin" the house. 

You might be required to have a two-story house, or you might be prohibited from having one.  Some areas have restrictions against various kinds of antennas.  Others limit, even prohibit, certain kinds of pets (or all pets).

Height, overall size, style, driveway, landscaping -- all can be factors determined by local and other restrictions.  All these things, and more, have to be taken into consideration.  The more you know before you begin the design, the better.


Setback is the distance between the house and the property line.  To keep a neighborhood (or future neighborhood) consistent, there are often restrictions concerning setback from the street and room on the sides between the properties.  This can be important even if you choose a lot in the country, and can become more so if your lot is within a development.

Setback can make a difference in the overall costs, general appearance, and the design you use.  For example, if the lot is very large, and the deed restriction requires that the home be placed a minimum of 125 feet from the road, the savings on the land can be offset by the cost of building such a long driveway.  Also, simply due to perspective, a small home set well off the road is going to look even smaller, and perhaps a little odd.

Setback of a house.

Setback restrictions will probably also apply from side to side.  If the lot is 125 feet wide, but carries with it a deed restriction of setting the home no closer than 30 feet from either adjoining property, the maximum length of the house will be 65 feet.  Keep in mind that this means from outer wall to outer wall.  If your design doesn't take wall thicknesses into account, you could find yourself with a house plan that violates the deed restrictions.


If you plan to build within a city or town, the property is probably zoned.  Zoning is a method that local governments use to control the physical development of the land.  The four most common zones are commercial, industrial, residential, and agricultural.  You may not be allowed to build a home in a commercial zone or a business in a residential zone.  

Zoning map.

In addition, zoning regulations can determine what type of home can be put in certain residential areas.  If the plot is zoned for smaller homes, and your intention is for a larger one, chances are pretty good that yours is going to be the largest and most expensive in the neighborhood.  That might seem fine, but later on, it's going to mean that selling your home at a decent price will be more difficult.

On the other hand, if the area is zoned for larger homes, and you can't afford to build or maintain a large house, the deal on the land is meaningless.

Although zoning can force you to change your building plans, the opposite is nearly as bad and can sometimes be worse.  Especially outside towns and cities, land may be unzoned meaning that there are no zoning restrictions limiting what can be done with the property.  If you buy a piece of unzoned land, then only building codes apply.  The lack of restrictions applies to your neighbors as well, and you may find yourself living next door to an industrial complex in the future, and living in a house that can't be sold.  

How Do I Find Out About Local Restrictions?

Some of the local restrictions will be spelled out in the deed.  You should also call your county's planning and building departments for more information on local restrictions.