Many properties are subject to “private dwellinghouse” covenants, limiting use to a private dwellinghouse only.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to re-evaluate and reinterpret such covenants, considering their historical context.
Working from home
During the initial phase of the lockdown, many people who would not normally work from home began working from home. People work from bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, lounges, and even sheds and garages. More than one room in the property may be being used as a workspace. More people are also operating businesses from home. The Government continues to encourage people to work from home where possible and recognises that many people will be reluctant to return to their usual workplaces in the future.
Purpose of private dwellinghouse covenants
In my view, the original purpose of “private dwellinghouse” covenants was to preserve the character of the neighbourhood and to safeguard public health. It was not uncommon for such covenants to be accompanied by one or more of the following:
- A covenant not to use the property for any offensive or noxious trade or business.
- A covenant not to use the property for the sale of alcohol or as a public house, inn or beerhouse.
- A covenant not to use the property as a hospital or for the treatment of infectious diseases.
- A covenant not to use the property for any trade or manufacture.
- A covenant not to use the property as a slaughterhouse or tannery.
- A covenant not to keep livestock at the property, other than domestic pets, such as a dog, cat or caged bird.
- A covenant not to do (or allow to be done) anything which might cause a nuisance or annoyance to the neighbouring owners or occupiers.
- A covenant not to sell any goods by auction.
During and after World War II, it was common for “dwellinghouse” covenants to expressly permit the property to be used for professional purposes and to allow the display of a professional nameplate.
My view is that in the age of the internet and COVID-19, “private dwellinghouse” covenants cannot prevent remote working from home, even where more than one room is used. I would also suggest that such covenants must be interpreted to permit the operation of an internet based business from home. The “normal” use of residential properties has changed, and the courts and tribunals must take account of that.