Site restrictions and your home improvement project

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ June 3, 2013

Is this the summer that home addition or detached garage long dreamed about is finally going to become a reality? Are you already envisioning exactly how it's going to blend in with your home and sit on your lot? While what you're picturing might come to fruition, there could be a few adjustments that need to be made. Your property may have some site restrictions that could affect your project.

Understanding site restrictions

Do you own your home and property? If so, you might think that allows you to determine what and where a structure can be built on it. However, in many localities that's not quite true. Whether you live in a rural area or a sub-division, there may be site restrictions that must be considered during the early planning of your home improvement project. Here are a few terms you should understand when you research whether your plan is acceptable:

  • Plat - When you purchased your home or property, the settlement attorney should have provided this drawing which shows the boundaries of the lot. A plat also delineates the locations of all the existing permanent structures. The drawing may be referred to as a plot plan or final survey drawing in some areas. This document should be the starting point when planning a home addition or the construction of a stand-alone building. If you don't have one, a copy should be on file in the administrative offices of the county or city where the property is located.
  • Setbacks - These are restrictions established by localities as to how close a permanent structure can be built to a property line. Front, side, and rear setback distances often vary depending on the type of neighborhood where your home is located. Setbacks are often shown on your plat.
  • Easements - Have you ever wondered how utility companies can dig ditches across private property to install or maintain their lines? It's because many lots have legal utility easements that have been recorded with the local jurisdiction. That means utility companies can work on that section of the property any time the need arises. It can also mean that there are restrictions as to what can be placed on that portion of your land. While most easements are for utilities, they can also exist for issues such as community drainage. Easements are normally shown on plats.
  • Restrictive covenants - If you live in a community with a Homeowner's Association (HOA), there's a pretty good chance it has a set of restrictive covenants that regulate what can be constructed on your property. While some have fairly basic limitations, others can go so far as to stipulate the architectural style of the project and what exterior finishes are allowed.

Doing a home improvement project that encroaches on a site restriction can be a big problem. At the very best you may be asking the local jurisdiction for a variance and the worst case scenario could involve some demolition. Your local building officials can be a tremendous help in determining what limitations might exist on your property. However, when it comes to deciphering HOA restrictive covenants, you might have to attend one of their meetings.

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