Deed restrictions as a method of land use control in Houston



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In much of the urban planning literature, Houston warrants only a short footnote or paragraph-the gist of which is something like: "Houston is the only U.S. city with a population over 100,000 that does not use zoning to regulate land use." Rarely is there any actual examination of Houston's control over land use. Land use in most cities is controlled by zoning ordinances which set forth the types of developments (single-family residential, multi-family residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) which will be allowed in a particular area. Houston, on the other hand, relies on a combination of narrowly-focused ordinances and private covenants. There have, however, been "piece-meal" attempts by the City to exert some control over area land use. Houston has enacted ordinances similar to other cities regulating construction of buildings, residential housing, and subdivision development. Subdivision regulations deal with a wide range of issues from streets and sidewalks to sewer outlets to minimum lot size and height restrictions. There are also ordinances dealing with such problems as the location of sexually oriented businesses, helioports, and junkyards. In September 1986, Houston's City Council approved the preparation of a non-binding, comprehensive plan for development in Houston. The plan has no enforcement power and is actually a set of suggestions, yet critics attacked the idea of a plan as leading toward zoning. Aside from these ordinances dealing with specific problems, Houston's regulation of land use has largely been based upon a system of deed restrictions. Deed restrictions are restrictions which encompass a broad range of possible limitations: uses of land, size of lots, types of structures on lots, quality of materials, types of architecture, etc. The restrictions are generally created by the developer and apply to buyers upon purchase. These restrictions may expire on a particular date or may, for all practicable purposes, continue to exist in perpetuity. Because these restrictions are private agreements, the burden is on individuals rather than public agencies to see that the restrictions are enforced. Though both the City of Houston Attorney's Office and the Harris County Attorney's Office handle deed restriction violation cases, the responsibility for enforcement continues to fall on residents. Because of the reliance on private action in upholding the neighborhood's deed restrictions, the monitoring and enforcing of deed restrictions have largely become the tasks of neighborhood associations. These associations are the focus of this study of enforcement of deed restrictions. The goal of this study is to provide a context for understanding the system of deed restrictions as land use controls and, more specifically, to attempt to determine how organizational factors impact the effectiveness of neighborhood associations in enforcing their restrictive covenants. [...]



Deeds, Houston, Texas, Land use