Many people do not know that restrictive covenants are normally created forever and are often still enforceable hundreds of years later. Jersey’s Public Registry dates back to 1602, making it one of the oldest in the world. Before that, contracts were generally conducted in open-air hearings before the great-and-good of each Parish known as “Ouïes de Paroisse” (the ears of the Parish)!
It is therefore unsurprising that whilst we search through property contracts checking Title, we often come across restrictions; most of which are obvious and frankly quite boring, but every now and again a little gem shines out to brighten our task! For example, when a Reverend Bibby bought Mont Orgueil Cottage from the Crown in 1887, he was forbidden to move in until such time as a Captain Tudor decided that he had enough of captaining H.M.S. Mistletoe and felt it was time to move on. History doesn’t record how many years that may have taken…
Single-house restrictions are commonplace regarding a piece of land being sold. This can cause nightmares if the original restrictive clause gets omitted over the years in subsequent contracts and the land eventually gets split up into a housing estate. When St Helier rapidly rose from the marsh and sands in the early nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for the original developer to insist that all buildings in the area were a certain distance from the road and/or have ceilings of a certain height and windows of a set size. In order to remove these restrictions, every successor in title of the properties in the affected area would need to be party to any contract lifting such covenants. But this has not always happened.
Some covenants are now easier to adhere to, such as stipulations that any house constructed in the land must have a value of £250 or more, but others less so. For example, how can you be sure that your dustbin area “does not exude more odour than would be expected in a bourgeois neighbourhood”? Also, what if your deeds permit your neighbour to walk through your lounge to exercise their right to draw water from your (covered over) well?
For certain new properties built along Hill Street “pierres d’attente” or “stones in waiting” were required to jut out sideways from the façade, so that when another house was built next door it could interlock properly with its neighbour. There are innumerable covenants restricting height, appearance, style and colour of buildings and how close they may be to neighbouring properties. Even what you can do in your new house can be severely curtailed: opening an inn, forge or tannery may be prohibited, and did you know that on some estates residents are forbidden to have a barbecue on a Sunday!
At Viberts, our conveyancing team closely scrutinises a property’s deeds in order to highlight any restrictions to its prospective buyer. That way, history won’t come back to bite them after they have bought their “dream home”.