Definition and Historical Background
Consequently, the common law would enforce a covenant even in the absence of consideration. In the United States contract law, an implied covenant of good faith is presumed. Covenants play a significant role in property law, particularly in relation to land use and ownership. The concept of covenants has evolved over time, with modern covenants encompassing various types and characteristics, such as affirmative and negative covenants, covenants running with the land, and restrictive covenants, among others. These legal instruments have been subject to controversies and enforcement challenges, reflecting the complex nature of property law and the need for a balance between individual property rights and broader societal interests (Wikipedia, n.d.; Restatement (Third) of Property, 2000).
Covenant vs. Contract
A covenant and a contract are both legally binding agreements, but they differ in terms of their nature and application. A contract is a voluntary agreement between two or more parties, outlining their mutual obligations and responsibilities. It is enforceable by law and typically involves an exchange of consideration, such as goods, services, or money. On the other hand, a covenant is a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action, often associated with property law and land use. Historically, covenants were distinguished from contracts by the presence of a seal, which indicated a higher level of solemnity and commitment. In the United States, an implied covenant of good faith is presumed in contract law, further differentiating the two concepts. While contracts generally focus on the performance of specific tasks or obligations, covenants tend to impose long-term restrictions or requirements on the use of land, often running with the land and binding future owners (Black’s Law Dictionary, 2014; Restatement (Third) of Property, 2000).
Types of Covenants in Property Law
In property law, covenants play a crucial role in regulating the use and management of land. There are several types of covenants, including real covenants, affirmative covenants, negative covenants, and restrictive covenants. Real covenants are conditions tied to the ownership or use of land, often running with the land, meaning they apply to future owners as well. Affirmative covenants require a landowner to perform a specific action, such as maintaining a fence or paying homeowners’ association fees. Negative covenants, on the other hand, restrict a landowner from engaging in certain activities, like building a structure above a certain height or using the property for commercial purposes. Restrictive covenants are similar to negative covenants but may also include non-compete clauses in contract law. These covenants can be enforced through homeowner associations, and controversies may arise due to selective enforcement or disputes over the interpretation of covenant terms (Wikipedia, n.d.; Property Law, n.d.).
- Property Law. (n.d.). Types of Covenants in Property Law. Retrieved from [source]
- Wikipedia. (n.d.). Covenant (law). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_(law)
Real Covenants and their Characteristics
Real covenants in property law are characterized by their connection to the ownership or use of land. These covenants can be either affirmative, requiring the covenantor to perform a specific action, or negative, restricting the covenantor from engaging in certain activities on the property. A key feature of real covenants is their ability to “run with the land,” meaning that the obligations or restrictions imposed by the covenant apply to all future owners of the property, regardless of changes in ownership. This is in contrast to personal covenants, which apply only to the original parties involved in the agreement. Real covenants are often enforced through deed restrictions or homeowner associations, and their enforcement may become lax over time as the original promisee is no longer involved with the land. It is important to note that real covenants are distinct from easements and equitable servitudes, although they share some similarities in terms of their function and enforcement mechanisms (Restatement (Third) of Property, 1986; Torrens title, Commonwealth countries).
Affirmative and Negative Covenants
Affirmative and negative covenants are essential components of property law, particularly in the context of real covenants. Affirmative covenants, also known as positive covenants in England and Wales, require the covenantor to perform a specific action, such as maintaining a shared driveway or paying homeowners’ association fees. On the other hand, negative covenants impose restrictions on the covenantor’s use of the property, prohibiting certain actions or land uses, such as building a structure above a specified height or using the property for commercial purposes. These covenants can either run with the land, meaning they bind future owners of the property, or be personal in nature, applying only to a particular individual. While affirmative covenants typically do not run with the land under English law, the United States examines such covenants more closely, and with exceptions, has permitted them to run with the land (Friedman, 2005).
-  Friedman, L. M. (2005). A History of American Law. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Covenants Running with the Land
Covenants running with the land are a crucial aspect of property law, as they impose duties or restrictions on the use of land, regardless of the owner. These covenants are legally binding agreements that “run” with the land, meaning that any future owners must also abide by the terms set forth in the covenant. They can be either affirmative, requiring a specific action, or negative, restricting certain uses of the property. Covenants running with the land are often established through deed restrictions or homeowner associations, ensuring that the land is used in a manner consistent with the original intent of the covenantor (the party making the promise) and the covenantee (the party receiving the promise) (Wikipedia, n.d.). Enforcement of these covenants may become lax over time, leading to controversies surrounding selective enforcement and the potential infringement on social and economic human rights (Wikipedia, n.d.).
- Wikipedia. (n.d.). Covenant (law). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_(law)
Restrictive Covenants and Easements
Restrictive covenants and easements are both legal tools used in property law to regulate the use and enjoyment of land. However, they differ in their nature and application. Restrictive covenants are promises made by a landowner to refrain from certain actions or land uses that may negatively affect neighboring properties. These covenants are typically imposed through deed restrictions or homeowner associations and can “run with the land,” binding future owners to the same restrictions (Restatement (Third) of Property, 2000).
On the other hand, easements grant a non-possessory interest in another’s land, allowing the holder of the easement to use the land in a specific manner or prevent the landowner from using it in a certain way. Easements can be affirmative, granting the right to use the land, or negative, restricting the landowner’s use (Symposium, 1986). Unlike restrictive covenants, easements do not impose obligations on the landowner but rather grant rights to the easement holder.
In summary, restrictive covenants impose limitations on land use to protect neighboring properties, while easements grant specific rights or restrictions to a non-possessory party. Both tools serve to regulate land use and protect property interests, but they differ in their application and enforcement mechanisms.
-  Restatement (Third) of Property: Servitudes (2000).
-  Symposium, The Future of the Law of Servitudes: A Symposium, 1986 Duke L.J. 647 (1986).
Implied Covenant of Good Faith in US Contract Law
The implied covenant of good faith is a fundamental principle in United States contract law, which presumes that parties to a contract will act in good faith towards each other. This means that they will not intentionally deceive, mislead, or undermine the other party’s rights and interests, and will instead cooperate to achieve the contract’s objectives. The covenant is not explicitly stated in the contract but is considered an inherent aspect of every contractual relationship. Courts may use the implied covenant of good faith to interpret ambiguous contract terms, fill gaps in the agreement, or resolve disputes arising from the parties’ conduct. However, the scope and application of the covenant may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of each case. It is important to note that the implied covenant of good faith cannot override express contractual provisions or create new obligations that were not agreed upon by the parties (Eisenberg, 1995; Burton, 1980).
- Burton, S. J. (1980). Breach of Contract and the Common Law Duty to Perform in Good Faith. Harvard Law Review, 94(2), 369-428.
- Eisenberg, M. A. (1995). The Duty of Good Faith in Contract Performance and Enforcement. Journal of Corporation Law, 21(1), 1-34.
Non-compete Clauses and Restrictive Covenants in Contract Law
Non-compete clauses and restrictive covenants are provisions in contract law that aim to protect the legitimate interests of a party, typically an employer, by limiting the actions of another party, usually an employee or contractor. Non-compete clauses restrict the ability of an individual to work for a competitor or engage in competitive activities for a specified period after the termination of their employment or contractual relationship. Restrictive covenants, on the other hand, impose limitations on the use of confidential information, trade secrets, or intellectual property obtained during the course of the relationship. These provisions are designed to prevent unfair competition and protect the valuable assets of a business. However, the enforceability of non-compete clauses and restrictive covenants varies across jurisdictions, as courts often balance the interests of the parties involved and consider factors such as the reasonableness of the restrictions, the duration, and the geographical scope (Restatement (Second) of Contracts, 1981; Blake, 1960).
Breach of Covenant and Lease Forfeiture
The relationship between a breach of covenant and lease forfeiture lies in the consequences that may arise when a covenant, a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action, is violated within the context of a lease agreement. In property law, covenants are often tied to the ownership or use of land, and their breach can lead to the forfeiture of leases, particularly in leasehold estates. Forfeiture typically occurs in cases of severe breaches, with the covenant to pay rent being one of the more fundamental covenants. The forfeiture of a private home can involve interference with social and economic human rights, prompting leasehold reform measures in some jurisdictions (Friedman, 2017). It is important to note that the breach must be significant enough to warrant lease forfeiture, as courts generally seek to balance the interests of both parties involved in the lease agreement (Harpum et al., 2012).
- Friedman, L. (2017). Leasehold Reform: A Practical Guide. Law Brief Publishing.
- Harpum, C., Bridge, S., & Dixon, M. (2012). Megarry & Wade: The Law of Real Property. Sweet & Maxwell.
Real Covenants in Deed Restrictions and Homeowner Associations
Real covenants play a significant role in deed restrictions and homeowner associations, as they impose conditions on the use and ownership of land. These conditions, also known as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CCRs) or deed restrictions, can either restrict the land’s usage (negative covenants) or require specific ongoing actions (affirmative covenants) (Restatement (Third) of Property, 2000). When a covenant “runs with the land” (covenant appurtenant), it binds future landowners to its terms, ensuring that the land’s usage remains consistent with the original intent (English Law, 1986). Homeowner associations often enforce these covenants to maintain the community’s aesthetic and functional standards, preserving property values and promoting harmonious living among residents (Symposium, 1986). However, controversies may arise due to selective enforcement or lax implementation as time passes and the original promisee is no longer involved (Restatement (Third) of Property, 2000). Thus, real covenants serve as a crucial tool in regulating land use and maintaining the integrity of deed restrictions and homeowner associations.
- English Law. (1986). Affirmative Covenants.
- Restatement (Third) of Property. (2000). Servitudes.
- Symposium. (1986). The Law of Easements, Equitable Servitudes, and Real Covenants.
Covenant Enforcement and Controversies
Covenant enforcement in the context of deed restrictions and homeowner associations has been a subject of debate and controversy. One of the primary issues is the selective enforcement of covenants, which can lead to accusations of discrimination and favoritism among homeowners (Peppet, 2004). Additionally, as time passes and the original promisee of the covenant is no longer involved in the land, enforcement may become lax, leading to disputes among homeowners and potential legal battles (French, 2001).
Another concern is the potential infringement on individual property rights, as restrictive covenants may limit the use and enjoyment of one’s property (Alexander, 2011). Furthermore, the enforcement of covenants may also have unintended consequences on the community, such as stifling innovation in land use and development, and perpetuating socio-economic segregation (Ellickson, 1986). In light of these issues, some legal scholars have called for a reevaluation of the role of covenants in property law and a more balanced approach to their enforcement (Lewinsohn-Zamir, 2013).
- Alexander, G. S. (2011). Property and human flourishing. Notre Dame Law Review, 86(4), 1-54.
- Ellickson, R. C. (1986). Of Coase and cattle: Dispute resolution among neighbors in Shasta County. Stanford Law Review, 38(3), 623-687.
- French, N. (2001). Real estate covenants: An economic analysis. Journal of Property Investment & Finance, 19(4), 345-359.
- Lewinsohn-Zamir, D. (2013). Identifying Intense Preferences. Cornell Law Review, 98(6), 1391-1447.
- Peppet, S. R. (2004). Unraveling privacy: The personal prospectus and the threat of a full-disclosure future. Northwestern University Law Review, 105(3), 1153-1204.