Residential neighborhoods often are protected by zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. Zoning ordinances are created by municipal governments by cities, townships and boroughs. They regulate use of land, declaring certain areas to be residential, others commercial and others industrial. Special enterprise, agricultural, educational or medical zones may exist in some municipalities. Restrictive covenants are different. Deeds written to convey property from one owner to another may include language restricting the use of the property. In planned residential developments, a lengthy set of restrictive covenants may be recorded. These covenants are not actually listed in the deed to each lot, but are recorded in the county Office of the Recorder of Deeds and are simply referenced in the deeds. A prospective buyer or his or her attorney must read and understand all zoning ordinances and recorded restrictions to fully understand the permitted uses of a property.
In two Pennsylvania cases, home owners were prohibited from parking commercial trucks at their homes. In one case, the truck parking was found to violate the local zoning ordinance; in the other a set of restrictive covenants were deemed to ban truck parking.
In the zoning case, a homeowner regularly parked his truck in the rear of his home in a residential zone in a western Pennsylvania town. The homeowner was a tools franchisee who sold and serviced commercial tools. His Ford P30 truck measured sixteen feet long by ten feet high and contained all his tools and equipment, a phone, fax and computer. He kept all his inventory in the truck and conducted all of his business out of the truck. The homeowner received about eight business-related mail packages per month. After neighbors complained about the homeowner’s business activities, he was cited by the local zoning officer for violating the ban on business uses in the residential zone. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the zoning hearing board and found that the homeowner’s receipt of business mail and his parking of the truck at his home violated the ban on business uses in the residential district.
In the restrictive covenant case, a homeowner sometimes parked his truck tractor and one or more trailers at his home in a planned residential development. He also sometimes repaired the truck tractor at his home. A non-jury trial was held on a lawsuit brought against the homeowner by the Architectural Control Committee of the development. The trial court found that the homeowner’s parking and repair of his truck tractor and trailers did not violate the restrictive covenants; however, on appeal the trial court was reversed. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the covenants which prohibited all uses except residential uses and which banned “tractors” and “trailers” were clearly violated by the homeowner. “Storage of heavy equipment is neither incidental to, nor customary in, a residential area,” the Court noted.
Litigation concerning the permitted use of residential property is complicated and subject to many exceptions. Homeowners may be entitled to variances from zoning regulations and restrictive covenants are subject to strict interpretation by the courts. Before assuming that a particular use is permitted or prohibited, a homeowner should thoroughly review the zoning laws, all recorded covenants and the history of the use of the property.