One of the great things about owning a home is the ability to landscape, paint, and adorn it in your own style. However, you may be subject to local laws and home owners' association (HOA) rules with respect to appearance, maintenance, and fence restrictions. For example, many HOAs have rules on which colors you may paint your home. Local ordinances, meanwhile, may require you to maintain a clear sidewalk path in front of your home. It's important to always make sure you know what these restrictions and regulations are before purchasing a home.
This article provides a general overview of the types of appearance, maintenance, and fence restrictions a home owner may encounter. See Home Owners' Associations and Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions for additional articles and resources.
Probably the single most controlling covenant found in those adopted by homeowners' associations is that which addresses the appearance and maintenance of private properties. It is important to note that, even in the absence of CC&Rs, many of these same issues are regulated by local zoning or blight ordinances. However, because covenants are voluntary in nature (a purchaser agrees to abide by the covenants as a condition of purchasing the property), they can impose more strict obligations upon homeowners than those required under zoning ordinances.
For instance, some HOAs levy fines against residents who leave their garbage cans on the curb for too long or fail to keep their garage door shut. Others prohibit things like vegetable gardens and clothes lines.
Fence heights are generally controlled by local ordinance but may also be a subject covered in neighborhood covenants. Commonly, they restrict fence heights to six feet in back yards, and three to four feet in front yards.
Natural fences are more burdensome. Bushes or trees used as natural borders or fences (or deemed to constitute same) become overgrown and tend to encroach on neighbors' properties. In addition to the encroachment (which may constitute a trespass), overgrown natural fences also tend to obstruct views, thereby possibly violating another covenant.