Most people are aware of planning requirements and building regulations and how they may be applicable to their garage conversion. However, few are familiar with restrictive covenants and how they can legally prevent you from converting your garage even if you have planning permission and building regulations approval.

This article discusses what a covenant is and how to find out if you have any attached to your property. We also explain what you can do about it and estimate the costs of discharging covenants.

be carefull

A lot of new build houses that are under 5 years old will have restrictive covenants. Developers can enforce their right and even enter your home to reverse work that contravenes the covenant at your cost.

Terminology

I use the term House Builder and Developer throughout the article. Here I’m referring to the company that built your house such as Taylor Whimpey, Barratt Homes – David Wilson Homes, Bellway, Persimmon etc.

What are restive covenants?

Covenants are legal clauses contained in your title deeds which form agreements and limit what can be done without first seeking permission from the developer or party who issued the deeds. They are used to restrict the development of a property including extensions and alterations including garage conversions. 

Where to find them

First check your title deeds, these are legal documents that provide information on the ownership, rights and obligations associated with your property. If you don’t have them, ask your solicitor who acted for you when you purchased the property, they should have a copy. Within the deeds there should be a full section detailing the restrictions, look for clauses that mention alteration and extensions, some also specifically state the garage must remain able to store a car. The example exert below has a blanket clause restricting alteration to the exterior for five years. 

example of a restrictive covenant preventing a garage conversion

Time limits of restrictive covenants.

In our experience most covenants have a 5 year time limit from the date of transfer but please read your deeds carefully and seek professional help from your solicitor if it is not clear.  If we are involved in your garage conversion, we are happy to read through the deeds and investigate the matter further if required.

Purpose

Restrictive covenants allow the house builder of the estate to control the look at feel of the street scenes and how developed the plots are for an initial period. The house builders like to have this control while they are still building and selling houses on the development as it ensures the desirability of their stock.

Removing Restrictive Covenants

If you do find a clause in your title deeds that restrict the conversion of your garage, don't worry. From our experience house builders are more than happy to approve a high quality garage conversion that respects the architectural details of the house.

The following steps are detailed here for those of you planning to undertake the garage conversion or at least the admin part of the process yourself. For clients of North East Garage Conversions this work is part of our package and will be included in your quotation if it is required.

The first step in removing the covenant is to reach out to the house builder and find out which department deals with this and what there process is. Typically you will need to speak with someone in the regional technical team who will require the following.

Plan Drawing

A floorplan of the house detailing the existing and proposed layout, you must show where any knock throughs or modifications are to be made. It may be possible that house builder will accepts a roughly edited version of the floor plan they normally provide as part of the sales documentation. However, they may also insist on detailed architectural plans prepared by a professional.

Garage conversion architectural floorplan

Elevation Drawing

Arguably the most important part of the application, this is a drawing of the front of your house detailing the proposed changes. In our opinion paying attention to the details of your house and replicating them gives you the highest chance of approval with the house builder and the best quality finished job. Pay attention to and mark the following on your drawings.

Window Cills

Is there a stone cill or contrasting brick work detail? Most people intend on matching these details anyhow but make sure you communicate this to the house builder. Completing the job without matching the stone cills will make the front of your house look a little strange and something you will probably regret later.

Windows

Does the window itself have a sash bar or Georgian bar detail in the glass? You should aim to match the details of the existing windows perfectly.

The Brickwork

The house builder themselves may help you with the manufacturer of the brick, note that this will be matched and for the best looking finish fully toothed in to the existing brick work.

Terminology

Fully toothed means the existing reveals which house the garage door will have the bricks removed to form a tooth like pattern that the new bricks will fit into. This looks far better than a straight mortar line that screams "this was a garage."

Symmetry

If converting your garage will now offer a double fronted look consider how other aspects of the house would look if they were also modified. Typically a canopy detail that runs over the garage opening may look better modified to only cover the central entrance door.

The window mentioned above may also be important to maintain the balance of the house. If you have a existing bow window to the front it normally looks better to match this when converting the garage.

Front Elevation for garage conversion

Application Form

Not all but some of the large house builders have a specific form for applying to convert the garage, others have a generic form which is more concerned with building extensions. If you are filling the form in yourself and find questions that relate to extensions dot be afraid tot write N/A.

Fees - How much does it cost to remove a restrictive covenant?

Not all house builders charge a fee to remove the covenant, but some do, this is generally termed an admin fee to cover the assessment of the drawings. The most we have seen charged is £120 including vat.

Confirmation

If you have successfully communicated your intentions to perform a high quality conversion that respects and replicates the existing house there is little reason for the developer to object and you should receive a letter of consent.

Always insist on the house builder’s permission being sent in writing, an email is fine just be sure you save it somewhere secure.

Summary

While restrictive covenants can sound scary and complicated they are often easily dealt with for the purpose of garage conversions. Some covenants have time limits and its possible yours has expired, check first. If it is still active you will most likely need to provide drawings (which you can ask your architect or builder to do) and submit a short application form along with a modest fee. If we are your chosen garage conversion company, we will include this service as part of your package.


If you are from further afield and need help with drawings, you can find a design professional here who will produce a floor plan and elevation if the house builder needs them.  

About the Author Michael NEGC


Michael is the Architectural Designer and Surveyor at North East Garage Conversions.
Michael has a HNC in Civil Engineering and a HND in Construction Management. Previous experience includes multiple renovations, a self build plus working as an Architectural Technician, Designer and Project Manager.

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