Rights as a Homeowner

Your home may be your castle. However, even as the king of your proverbial castle, you still have certain responsibilities that you will be expected to honor as a homeowner.

Before you buy a house, you may ask yourself the question of what are my rights as a homeowner and what will people in the neighborhood and surrounding area expect of me? You can prepare for your role as the owner of a house and property by learning what rights you are entitled to and what responsibilities come with owning your own home.

Obedience of Civil and Criminal Laws

The outside world does not stop at your doorstep. Indeed, you will be expected to obey the letter of the law inside as well as outside of your home. As a homeowner, you must obey all civil and criminal laws even if you are within the confines of your own home. If you break the law, you could be subject to any number of criminal or civil penalties including a monetary fine or imprisonment.

As such, you should remember that while you have the right to privacy within your own home you likewise cannot willfully engage in behaviors that run afoul of city, county, state, and federal laws. You cannot, for example, sell or use illegal drugs. You likewise cannot commit murder, rape, assault, or engage in any other violent crime.

You also are not permitted to be a nuisance even if you are inside your home. For instance, you cannot blast your radio during the middle of the night and awaken your neighbors. You also cannot stand at the window or door to obscenely expose yourself to people who might walk on the sidewalk past your home. These acts could lead to you being arrested or fined.

If the police suspect that you are breaking the law within your own home, they could obtain a warrant and search your property. They also can rely on the testimony of witnesses when arresting and detaining you for breaking civil or criminal codes.

Zoning Ordinances

As a homeowner, you also must obey all of the zoning ordinances that pertain to your home and property. Before you purchase your house, you should verify these codes so that you can comply fully.

If your home and property are zoned exclusively for residential use, you may not be allowed to operate a business out of your home. If your business goes beyond holding a garage sale every summer or selling food storage containers or cosmetics to friends and neighbors, you could be violating the zoning ordinances for your neighborhood.

Likewise, if you own a business, you cannot convert any or all of it into residential units. If you want to use your property for anything other than for which it is zoned, you must use one of your viable and legal options for zoning relief. These options include seeking from the government:

• a variance
• a non-conforming use permit
• a conditional use permit
• a special use permit

Without one of these zoning relief options granted to you, you must use your property for the stipulated use as determined by the zoning board.

Covenants and Easements

The answer to the question of what are my rights as a homeowner also depends on whether or not there are any covenants or easements attached to the ownership of your home and property. Covenants and easements can impact how you can use and live in your own home. You should discover this information before finalizing your purchase of your house.

Covenants are often attached to owning homes that are located in subdivisions, upscale neighborhoods, and other exclusive residential developments. The covenant that you have with the neighborhood or homeowners associate can stipulate everything from what color you can paint your house to how short you must mow your grass.

Covenants can also determine whether or not you can have a satellite dish installed on the side of your house, what kinds of pets you can keep on your property, and other details that go along with owning a home in one of these neighborhoods. You typically must sign a contract that explains in depth each covenant you promise to obey while you own your home. If you violate that contract, you could be subject to civil penalties or being sued in court.

Easements are similar to covenants in that they limit to a lesser extent your ownership of your property. However, they primarily permit non-owners access to your home or land, most often for the betterment of the neighborhood or public as a whole.

For instance, you may have an easement with the local electric company that allows it to run utility lines on your property. You likewise may have an easement that lets your neighbors cross your driveway to reach a communal mailbox. As with covenants, any easements attached to your property will be outlined in your homeowners contract.

Owning a home does not mean that you are off the hook when it comes to obeying the law or observing zoning codes for your property. You likewise may be obligated to uphold covenants and easements with your HOA and neighbors. You can find out what stipulations go beyond obeying civil and criminal laws by retaining a property or real estate lawyer to review your homeowners contract before you finalize your purchase.