Zoning Restrictions VS. Deed Restrictions

By LandCentral
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Zoning Restrictions often wreak havoc on eager home owners. And we get it. The word restriction is in the phrase. The same is true for Deed Restrictions, which are contractual agreements restricting property owners from using their land in particular ways. In fact, many people think zoning restrictions and deed restrictions are one in the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth. But have no fear, LandCentral is here! We sifted through the boring stuff and are ready to give you the gist on their differences. So check out LandCentral’s Zoning Restrictions vs. Deed Restrictions:

First, what are they?

Zoning restrictions – A restriction on land. A zoning restriction dictates the way land in a jurisdiction can be used. Zoning helps maintain order in communities. For example, zoning will make sure a strip club will never be positioned right next door to an elementary school. Don’t want a busy gas station in the middle of your neighborhood? You can thank zoning restrictions for that.

Deed restrictions – A restriction on property. Also known as Restrictive Covenants, deed restrictions are actual contracts made between property owners, the developer and other property owners living in that area. Ever heard of a Home Owners Association (HOA)? Yep, this is them. Deed restrictions can govern fence heights, home color, and even the amount of trees allowed on a property.

So what’s the difference?

In a nut shell, wiggle room. Where home owners can choose to abide by the deed restrictions when they buy the home or work to amend them after they move in, zoning restrictions are more set in stone.

How are they drawn up?

Zoning restrictions – typically drawn up before any structure is built on a lot. Usually when the land is parceled off with certain property lines, the zoning restrictions are set. Ever seen raw land for sale with the sign stating “Commercial lot”? This means that vacant lot has been zoned for a business establishment. Meaning you can’t ever build a home there. Zoning restrictions are pretty cut and dry and you know what you’re getting into before you sign papers.

Deed restrictions – Typically drawn up when the person who owns the land (granter) is selling the land to the buyer. The deed is created to protect property value. Developers usually throw in deed restrictions to maintain the vision of their planned subdivision. They then rely on a HOA to enforce the restrictions once they’re out of the picture.

So what’s the difference?

With zoning restrictions, home owners have less power in changing the zoning of a lot. Where deed restrictions can be amended if all neighbors agree, zoning restrictions cannot.

Do all properties have zoning and deed restrictions?

Zoning restrictions – Yes and no. Some states in the U.S. (Kansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Texas) have less regulated properties. This doesn’t mean they aren’t zoned, but simply the properties found in these particular states don’t have a high demand for development anyway, so no one’s bothered to heavily restrict their zoning. Basically, if you’ve got property lines, that property has zoning. It’s just the enforcement of these restrictions will vary.

Deed restrictions – Yes and no. While all HOAs come with deed restrictions governing what is and isn’t allowed for your property, even homes without HOAs can still have deed restrictions attached to the developer of that lot. The ‘No’ comes in if that lot was developed decades earlier and no longer exists. Then you have no one left to really enforce your regulations, meaning the lot is going to be less regulated than existing HOA properties.

Check out the different types of zoning in the U.S.

Are they Amendable?

Zoning restrictions – Yes, but not easily. To change the restrictions on your zoned lot, you’d have to change the zoning completely. And like most things in the human world, they don’t make it easy. Check out this “easy” guide to Rezone a Property.

Deed restrictions – Yes. The ease of this task will be determined by just how cooperative your current HOA is and whether it’s a change others in your area are also in favor of. Say you want to be able to put in a pool in your backyard, but your HOA restricts pools. If the majority of your neighbors also want to put in a pool, that change is more likely to happen. But if you want to be able to park your junky old trailer on your front lawn, but your HOA restricts long-term parking of unusable vehicles, then that eyesore is likely not getting that permanent parking. Get the gist?

Where to find them?

Zoning restrictions – Zoning ordinance is public record. Simply locate your Local Zoning Office and you’ll find out what your lot is zoned for and any restrictions that come with it.

Deed restrictions – Easy peasy. Simply locate your property’s deed. Don’t have it? Visit the County Land Records Department in your county. If you have an existing HOA, check out this quick video to walk you through How to find your deed restrictions.

Do they ever expire?

Zoning restrictions – No, because there’s really no point. If a lot has been sitting there vacant for years and a builder wants to build outside of the zoning restrictions, they would simply make a case to obtain a zoning exception. So long as it doesn’t impede on the surrounding lots’ zoning, it is usually granted. This can be done in a number of ways: A special use permit, a zoning variance, or the pain staking path of changing the zoning completely.

Deed Restrictions – Sometimes. In some cases, there may be a specified expiration date on the deed, but this is rare. There are instances where there will be a time limitation set on a number of years. This information will be in your deed itself, so it’s really a case-by-case situation. If it is expired or the time limit is up, this means you can safely violate the deed restrictions without fear of legal ramifications.

So there you have it, LandCentral’s Zoning Restrictions vs. Deed Restrictions. While they seem similar in the way they restrict the use of property, just remember: zoning restrictions restricts the land use itself, whereas deed restrictions restricts more the land owner. While all properties come with restrictions, some are better than others. And some of the better ones are being sold right here, on LandCentral.  

Looking for vacant land?

LandCentral sells affordable and accessible vacant properties nationwide

View Available Properties