Developers and landowners often find that development sites are subject to covenants restricting the construction or alteration of buildings.

A recent High Court decision [1] provides useful guidance on the interpretation of these types of covenants and reinforces the need for developers and landowners to review in detail the precise wording of each covenant.

In this case there were a series of covenants which were expressed to be given by purchasers of land with the “Vendors and their successors in title”. The covenants included:

  • No buildings to be constructed other than a single private dwelling house.
  • No house to be constructed except in accordance with plans and specifications which have been approved by the “Vendors or their surveyors” and
  • No structural alterations or alterations to any building without the consent of the “Vendors or their surveyors”.

The dispute arose because of proposed redevelopment works on the land affected by the restrictive covenant. A number of parties claimed to have the benefit of the restrictive covenants and sought to enforce them.

Based on the strict interpretation of the wording, the High Court concluded that the covenants requiring approval of plans and approval to structural alterations or additions were only for the benefit of the original “Vendors”. There was no express reference to the consent of successors in title as well and the Court concluded that the reasonable interpretation was that these covenants were intended by the parties to be temporary. They could only be enforced by the original “Vendors” (even after they had sold the land which they owned when the covenants were created) and not by their successors in title.

As always, the moral of the tale is to read the precise wording carefully if you own a development site or are planning to undertake works and the land is subject to covenants restricting building or alterations in some way. The impact can vary dramatically in each individual case.

[1] Churchill v Temple [2010] All ER (O) 170