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Deed restriction dilemma - need advice

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I apologize for this being so long-winded.  Nevertheless I need some advice and look forward to your thoughts.   

After a couple years spent looking for land on which to build a small cabin, I finally secured a 6.5 acre wooded lot at a great price, thanks to the previous owner who failed to make his monthly payments.   The land is about an hour from my house, in what I would call "extreme" rural Tennessee.   The nearest town has a convenience store, a post office, a Coke machine, and that's about it.   I have confirmed that there is NO local building or planning department of any kind.   This is one of few places left where you can truly build whatever you like.  It's the wild west.  Not that I think that's an entirely good thing, but that's the situation. 

At any rate, what I really want to build is a very small cabin, maybe 16x20 or similar structure with a loft.   I don't want to spend a ton of money, and I don't want to recreate my primary residence an hour away.  I just want a small place to go hang out on the weekend, spend some time outdoors, and have a cabin big enough to get out of the rain at night, maybe have a couple friends stay over occasionally.   I have a busy life and I am aware that the property will only be used occasionally.  Most of the time I'll be miles away. 

My dilemma is this.  My lot comes with what the developer characterizes as "light" deed restrictions.  The one that's causing me grief is a restriction that all homes must contain at least 1000 square feet on the bottom floor.  Square footage upstairs doesn't count.  Complying with that restriction will force me into building more than I want to build, and blowing my budget.   For what it's worth, no HOA exists currently, and no HOA is authorized by the deed restrictions. 

Now, the possible mitigating factors.   My lot is located in a "subdivision" that is basically empty and has been for a long time.  The entire development is approximately 1000 acres, divided into about 100 lots, with each lot being about 5-10 acres in size.   On those 100 lots, only 3-4 homes have been built in the 8 years the subdivision has been around.  So it's as if someone threw a subdivision and nobody came.  The houses that do exist are located far from my lot.   My lot is totally wooded, so any structure I build will likely be invisible from the road and more or less invisible from any adjacent property. 

You can probably tell by now that I have flirted with the idea of building my small cabin in violation of the deed restriction, on the theory that a)  probably my little cabin won't be noticed on my large wooded lot and b)  possibly no one will care in a subdivision that is more or less empty. 

So my options are:

1.  Comply.  Build nothing.  Flip the property.   Keep looking. 
2.  Build a 16x20 "storage building" and claim compliance with the restriction. 
3.  Contact the developer and try to negotiate an exception for my intended purpose. 
4.  Build my small cabin in clear violation and hope no one objects. 

So the question is, should I even think about ignoring the deed restriction?   My real estate agent says build the small cabin I want and if someone objects, expand it to meet the restriction.  That's not a horrible idea, but I really don't want a structure large enough to conform with the restriction.   I want small.   I am uncomfortable contemplating breaking the rules, but I also believe my cabin could be built without disrupting anyone's plan, given the size of the lot and invisibility from outside my property.   Again, no HOA exists, and no building or planning department exists. 

Pros?  Cons?  Experiences or thoughts are welcome. 

Where I built my cabin they count porch as part of the foot print. If thats how they add it up there a large porch would get you there.

Q.  If there's no HOA who does the enforcing?  We own properties we rent out in a condo development and there it is the association that does the enforcing and fining.

We also looked at mountain propertiy that had all sorts of covenants on sizes and what could be done. There was an HOA there too. We walked on by.

Q. How large are the other homes/cabins that have been built? If they are meeting the 1000 sq ft main floor rule what makes you think they won't mind you building a 320 sq ft cabin? Some people are funny that way - they followed the rule and then someone comes along and doesn't. The thing is what could they do about it and who does the enforcing?

Personally I believe it would be unwise to build a small cabin and then if caught expand it to be large enough to meet the rule but much larger than what you would be happy with. At least I would not like that. It is a huge step from 320-400 sq ft to 1000.  1000 can be a home.

I'd pass on the deal, but that's just me.

Proceed with caution.
I will state off the bat, I do not trust realtors.  Their job is to sell, and most will say anything to accomplish those means.  They are long gone if there are fines later.

No matter how rural and desolate it seems, those sweet nice neighbors that are almost never around will know everything you do, and many will be the first to call whatever enforcement agency there is to check up on you.  Those 3-4 people that have already built in the development will be most interested in enforcing it.  They bought into the concept of deed restrictions, and may see your little structure as decreasing the value of their property. 

From a quick research, TN is governed by the 2009 ICC.  http://tn.gov/fire/homebuilding/index.shtml  Some places don’t hire enforcement departments.  I have seen deed restrictions enforced in various ways, but in my experience, they aren’t always through the building department.  Sometimes they are through county zoning offices.  They come by after the fact and hit people with fines or demolition for non-permitted use.  I don’t know TN well enough to know how its government is set up.

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom.  My general understanding is the developer wouldn’t be the only person you need to get permission from.  Usually deed restrictions are part of a subdivision and written in by the developer or the county.  They go before whatever government agency approves them and then the covenant conveys with the land. 

Another option would be to get a lawyer and go through the petition process to remove the deed restriction.  I have no idea what the specifics of property law in TN are.  My basic understanding is there would be a process, such as a petition with a period of public notice and comment. The neighbors that bought into the deed restrictions would get a chance to weigh in on the removal.  If a developer fears a lawsuit from home purchasers who already bought in, they would be reluctant to make an exception.

Whatever you decide, good luck.

The porch idea is interesting.  The restriction doesn't say anything about porches so I doubt I could make that fly, but that would definitely help if I could. 

The restriction says:

"No single-family detached dwelling house or mobile home shall be erected or permitted to remain on the property unless it has
      a minimum of 1,000 square feet of living area on the ground floor."

The developer or the other landowners have the right to enforce the deed restrictions, but since there is no HOA or public official to fall back on, I'm assuming they'd have to sue me and get a judgement. 

The subdivision - I use that term loosely, is a 3 phase affair.   Phase 1 has three homes that meet the restriction, and one home that I think is borderline.  I'm not sure it meets the rule, but it might.   There is nothing built anywhere in phase 2, where I am, or in phase 3.  I have spent several hours out there walking the property and I've never seen another person, even going down the road.   So it is very desolate.   

I can't say with any certainty that no one would mind me building a small cabin.  They have a right to object and they might.  I'm just saying that my cabin would never be seen unless someone was on my land.   Since it would be invisible to to outside world, I wouldn't think that it would instantly spark outrage.   Of course, you never know.   The developer still has some unsold lots in the subdivision, so I think he would be the guy most likely to object. 

I also place no trust in real estate agents, even the ones who supposedly work for me.  I did think the option to expand the structure would be a nifty option to solve the problem, but ultimately I don't want a structure that large, so its somewhat irrelevant. 

As far as government agencies go, there is no zoning department either.  This is a very rural (poor) county, and they have only a bare bones county government.  There would be no enforcement mechanism outside the courts. 

The deed restrictions do specifically state that they may be cancelled, altered or amended by the developer.   

Thanks for the input. 


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