Deed Restrictions - Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions (and corresponding answers) received by members of the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team regarding deed restriction matters and the City of Houston’s authority to enforce them:
Question #1: Why is the City’s Legal Department involved in the enforcement of deed restrictions? Doesn’t the City of Houston have zoning?
Answer #1: The City of Houston is not zoned. Therefore, the State Legislature and City Council have authorized the City to help with enforcement of recorded deed restrictions for the protection of neighborhoods, for the benefit of all residents, citizens, and taxpayers of the City, and to promote the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the City.
Question #2: Is there one set of recorded deed restrictions for the entire City of Houston?
Answer #2: No – deed restrictions adhere to subdivision lines and sometimes section or even lot boundaries. For example, the recorded deed restrictions for Oak Forest subdivision are valid for only those lots located within the platted area of that particular subdivision and also vary by section within the subdivision. In some Heights area neighborhoods, restrictions are applicable lot by lot.
Question #3: How do I get a copy of my deed restrictions?
Answer #3: For most people living in the City of Houston, their property is located in Harris County. Please contact the Harris County Clerk’s Office at 713.755.6405 to request a copy. If you wish, a copy may be obtained in person at the Harris County Clerk’s Office located downtown in the Harris County Civil Courthouse, 201 Caroline, 3rd Floor, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If your property is not located in Harris County and you would like to obtain a copy of the recorded deed restrictions, contact the clerk’s office of the county where the property is located. For example, if your property is located in Montgomery County, contact the Montgomery County Clerk at 936.539.7885. The Montgomery County Clerk’s Office is located at 210 W. Davis, Conroe, Texas 77301, and is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If your property is located in Ft. Bend County, you may contact the County Clerk at 281.341.8685. A copy may be obtained in person at the Ft. Bend County Clerk’s Office located at 301 Jackson St., Richmond, Texas 77469, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday and Thursday and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Each County charges a nominal fee for copies. A helpful hint – when requesting records, have the legal description of the property, lot and block number, as well as the name of the subdivision where the property is located.
Question #4: Who can lodge a complaint regarding an alleged deed restriction violation?
Answer #4: Any resident of the City of Houston may lodge a complaint with the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team – an individual, a neighborhood group, or a civic club representative because if the City becomes involved, it will be representing the entire City’s interests in protecting neighborhoods. Please note that if the matter goes to court, we may request the complainant to appear as a witness for the City of Houston.
Question #5: Does an abandoned vehicle qualify as a deed restriction violation the Deed Restriction Team can address? How about a property that has an excessive amount of junk or debris on it?
Answer #5: No – however, these matters do fall under the City’s nuisance ordinances and can be reported to the Houston Police Department Neighborhood Protection Team by calling 311. At the time of reporting to 311, the resident will be provided with a tracking number. To check on the status of such complaint, the resident should call 311 again and relate the tracking number. To speak to Neighborhood Protection directly, a resident may call 832.394.0600.
Question #6: How much does it cost to have the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team pursue a complaint?
Answer #6: Nothing. There is no fee.
Question #7: After lodging a complaint, what further involvement is needed from the person making the complaint?
Answer #7: Any additional information establishing the reported violation is welcome, but not required. If necessary, when the City takes the property owner and/or tenant to court, the complainant may be asked to appear as a witness at trial for the City or swear to an affidavit to be attached to the pleadings. The affidavit would provide a sworn detailed account of the deed restriction violation. For more information, see our section on what the City needs in order to prove a deed restriction violation.
Question #8: Can an attorney from the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team give advice to a private citizen or civic club regarding interpretation of recorded deed restrictions? Is that same attorney available to directly help residents of a subdivision renew/revise/or extend recorded deed restrictions?
Answer #8: No – attorneys from the City’s Legal Department may not give legal advice or offer a legal opinion to private citizens or civic clubs. For example, the City attorneys may not interpret language in a legal document or provide advice on legal procedures, although they may discuss the City’s standards for accepting a case and the relative merits, strengths and weaknesses of various interpretations. Individuals and organizations must seek the services of a private attorney. Help may be available, however, through the City’s Planning and Development Department’s pro bono program or through a neighborhood planner. The link to Planning and Development is www.houstontx.gov/planning. There is a link to Neighborhood Planning from there, and from Neighborhood Planning there is a link to Deed Restriction Assistance. Some neighborhoods may also be able to obtain assistance from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Civil Law Clinic, 713.313.7275.
Question #9: Is the amount of time a violation has existed a factor in determining whether the City of Houston can pursue a property owner for violation of deed restrictions?
Answer #9: Yes – if the property in question has been in continuous violation of deed restrictions since prior to August 1965, the City cannot pursue a lawsuit to enjoin (stop) the violation. However, if the violation started after that date, the City does have statutory authority (meaning authority has been given the City by the Texas Legislature) to pursue a lawsuit to enjoin the violation. The City will use its discretion in deciding whether to pursue some long standing violations, however. Equitable considerations may also impact the City’s decision to pursue a long standing violation.
Question #10: What is needed by the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team to prove that a deed restriction violation is occurring?
Answer #10: Examples of evidence used to substantiate the violation include, but are not limited to, photographs, eyewitnesses, logs of activities, and documentary evidence. See our section on what the City needs to prove a deed restriction violation for more detailed information. There is also an activity log that may be downloaded and used by complainants.
Question #11: How does the process work in regards to lodging a complaint?
Answer #11: The Deed Restriction Enforcement Team receives complaints, through the mail, from a Council Member, or on the Deed Restriction Hotline, and promptly:
Obtains (through its own title plant) copies of the recorded warranty deed and restrictions for the property where the alleged violation is occurring. Thereafter, the City establishes ownership of the premises, that the property in question has valid deed restrictions and that the activity being complained of is, in fact, prohibited by the applicable deed restrictions;
An investigation is performed (using the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team’s own investigators and members of other City departments) to establish that the activity about which there is a complaint is actually taking place*; and
The matter then goes before a staff meeting of attorneys from the Deed Restriction Enforcement Team where the recorded deed restrictions, evidence (or lack thereof), and other essential factors are examined. It is at this point in the process that the decision is made to either (1) send the property owner/tenant a letter informing him/her that there is a violation of the recorded deed restrictions; or (2) send a letter to the original complainant stating that the file is being closed and the reasons for the closing or that the matter needs further investigation. Before a lawsuit for an injunction is filed to stop the activity found to be in violation of the deed restrictions, the case is again reviewed in a staff meeting to ensure that there is sufficient evidence, including witnesses, to support the injunction. The witnesses can include neighbors affected by the activity, City investigators or others with first-hand knowledge of the violation.
*Please note that any assistance from the community in the establishment of a violation of valid and enforceable deed restrictions is greatly appreciated.