A covenant is any binding legal obligation which the owner of the property is obliged to fulfil. For example, to allow a neighbour a specific right of access across the property in which case the neighbour, who has these rights, is said to enjoy the benefits of an easement.
Not all covenants have related easements. Some more general covenants may relate to maintenance of the property, or to the protection of the interests or the environment for the benefit of everybody living locally.
Most of these obligations will be listed in the title deeds or in separate documents although, in some cases, they may even be implied. The obligations to comply with the covenants will be transferred in the contract agreement.
An express covenant will be set out in full in writing and be part of the agreement while an implied covenant will be one which follows automatically from other provisions that are in writing. The fact a covenant is only implied does not mean to can be ignored.
Covenants may be positive – requiring the property owner to do something specific – or negative (or restrictive) preventing a property owner from doing something, for example, parking a caravan in front of the house, or holding a noisy all-night party!
These responsibilities will be set out in the draft contract and inherited with the conveyance of the property. Some covenants are very old, maybe dating from when the area was first developed, and their validity has probably long since lapsed. Law reform is being discussed to cancel such irrelevant covenants out – ask your solicitor if any apply to your proposed purchase so that you know what specific obligations remain in force.
Details of all current covenants will be included in the new Home Information Packs when they are introduced in a few years’ time.
There is an alternative meaning of the word covenant when it refers to personal
creditworthiness. This aspect could come into question when you are taking up
a tenancy or offering to act as a guarantor. A tenant with excellent financial
and professional references is said to have presented a strong covenant.