Zoning, Plat Restrictions and Deed Restrictions

After several years of relative inactivity in this area, the board of HPWBANA has reconstituted a zoning/neighborhood preservation committee.  We find that more and more, our area is becoming one popular for infill and redevelopment.  This area  of our website will give guidance to those who are contemplating building in our neighborhoods and will be added to in the coming weeks as we develop new materials.

It is the intention of HPWBANA to publicize and support the plat restrictions which form the commitment for the character of our neighborhoods.  These documents are presented here.

 

DEED AND PLAT RESTRICTIONS

This is not a complete list of all the Plat Notes and Deed Restrictions applicable to the different areas of HPWBANA but rather a work in progress.

HELPFUL ZONING LINKS

City of Austin Building Plan Review – Permitting and Inspections

Development Regulations  Sometimes called the McMansion ordinance

Interim Regulation Development Bulletin Board.

Travis County Appraisal District  Appraisal information

West Austin Neighborhood Group   Website has many useful links on their Helpful Zoning Links menu.

Special Committee on Student Housing Issue  Sometimes called super-duplex or stealth

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ZONING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT

(updated 11-20-06)

The HPWBANA Zoning Committee compiled a list of commonly asked questions regarding zoning in our area. Questions, answers and clarifications will be added as needed. An resource for zoning questions is the City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department personnel who are current on this subject’s many complexities. The questions are divided in to three main areas:

About Building Changes, Deed restrictions and Zoning in the HPWBANA
About High Residency Housing in the HPWBANA (stealth dorms)
About Enforcement and Miscellaneous Zoning

 

About Building Changes, Deed Restrictions and Zoning in the HPWBANA

1. How do I find out what my neighbor is planning for remodeling or building?

  • Homeowners and builders are not required to inform neighboring property owners or the HPWBANA of building or construction plans. It is up to neighbors to be aware of what is happening in their neighborhood and get involved and become informed. Talk with the property owner and your neighbors. The property owner may be willing to discuss plans and work out issues. The property owner or builder may or may not be forthcoming with information.

2. What if they request a zoning change?

  • The City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department is required to notify any property owner within 300 feet of the subject property requesting a zoning change. A public hearing is then set typically within 60-90 days, sometimes sooner. The members of the Planning and Zoning Department then are required to vote for or against the change. If the request is denied the property owner has the right to appeal to city council. However, city council rarely overturns the Planning and Zoning Department decision.

3. I don’t know my neighbor but want to know what is planned. How do I find out?

  • Check out the city permitting site to find out what building permits have been filed. These permits will be approved based on existing city zoning codes that apply to the property. The property owner will be listed.http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/pierivr/permit_menu.cfm
  • To find demolition permits and plans check out this city website:http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/pierivr.htm
  • You can also find out who owns the property using the Travis County Appraisal Roll at: www.traviscad.org

4 .Can my neighbor make whatever building changes he/she wants?

  • No, there are many zoning, deed and plat restrictions that exist. And many of these have changed over time. The deed restriction enforcement topic is addressed in later questions.
  • It is important to remember the balance between property owner rights and being good neighbors. Property owners are entitled to make changes within code, deed and plat restrictions.

5. How can the HPWBANA help me with an individual building or zoning issue?

  • The HPWBANA is a neighborhood association, not a homeowner association. So, membership and participation are voluntary. There are over 1800 homes in our boundaries. While about 350 households have membership, the HPWBANA distributes a newsletter to all 1800+ homes each month.
  • The HPWBANA becomes involved in specific individual building and construction issues as they are brought to us and we help out where we can. This sometimes means helping neighbors get together to discuss the topic and see if a broader solution is needed. We can offer advice about what avenues have been productive in the past. HPWBANA has previously taken a leadership role in getting input from neighbors, working through competing concerns and developing possible consensus on such issues.
  • Like any other volunteer organization, we draw on the enthusiasm, interest and leadership talents from our individual members to carry forward these efforts.
  • The HPWBANA zoning committee is active in addressing undesirable trends in our neighborhood at a broader level. The McMansion problem and single family home high occupancy problem are examples. The zoning committee works with other neighborhood associations and directly with city council to influence changes to city ordinances and zoning.

6. Does the HPWBANA have an architectural steering committee like some other homeowner associations?

  • No, we do not have an architecture steering committee nor can we enforce deed restrictions. We have a zoning committee which is very informed about zoning issues and can offer advice. We are aware of trends that are occurring in the neighborhood and what options exist.

7. Was there ever a HPWBANA Homeowners Association?

  • Not exactly. With the creation of the Highland Park West subdivision (our neighborhood’s largest subdivision) in the 1940’s, the Highland Park West Homeowners’ Association was created. It later fell out of existence, but the concept was revived with the creation on the HPWBANA in the mid-1990s around the time of the proposed sale of surplus areas of Camp Mabry.

8. What are deed and plat restrictions?

  • Deed and plat restrictions are a contract between those residing within the boundaries of a development and generally prescriptive and prohibitive in language. They originate with the development of a neighborhood and help shape the character, for example one or two story homes, carports, duplexes, etc. Most of our residents have the same deed restrictions which are those for the very large development called Highland Park West. There are a number of smaller subdivision in our area as well that have different deed restrictions. (We will soon list the name and approximate size of each.)

9. Where do I find deed and plat restrictions?

  • Both deed and plat restrictions are archived at the Travis County Clerk’s Office. Be sure to have the subdivision name, block and lot number of your property. It is important to obtain any amendments as these can change the original restrictions. They can also be obtained from your title company.

10. Who enforces deed restrictions?

  • Deed and plat restrictions are enforced through the court system. Some violations of deed restrictions are not enforceable because too much time has passed since the violation or if other similar violations already exist in the area. A real estate attorney can review individual cases and provide advice. Neighbors banding together to hire legal assistance to fight deed restriction violations is sometimes very effective.
  • Some homeowner associations require deed restrictions be followed. HPWBANA is not a homeowner association and relies on neighbors to be active in their area.
  • The City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department enforces zoning approved by city council through the building permitting process, not deed restrictions which vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Building permits are granted based on zoning code, not deed restrictions.

11. How do neighbors challenge a deed restriction violation?

  • Sometimes talking with the property owner and informing them that deed restrictions need to be abided by can be very effective. This should be the first step to prevent the situation from escalating to a legal one.
  • Neighbors should seek the advice of a real estate attorney to determine if there is a violation and for suggestions on legal actions for enforcement, including using injunctive processes and filing suits. Similar deed restriction violations in an area and timeframes may have an impact.
  • The legal fees can be costly if a civil suit to enforce deed restrictions is filed (usually start at about $5,000). The HPWBANA does not have financial resources for these legal cases. Neighbors need to fund these efforts for their neighborhoods. A very large percentage of the cases are decided in favor of the property owner enforcement of deed restrictions (over 90%).

12. Are the large trees protected from construction and demolition activities?

  • Yes, the COA has a tree ordinance to protect the large trees. Trees that are 59.5″ in circumference (19 inches in diameter), measured at 4.5 feet from the ground are classified as “protected size” trees under the COA Tree Ordinance, and are subject to a Tree Ordinance Review by the COA Arborist. A permit, issued by the COA Arborist, is required for 1) removal of a protected-size tree, 2) development exceeding allowable standards for encroachment in the critical root zone, and/or 3) removal of more than 30% of a tree’s crown.
  • The applicant for a Residential Building Permit is responsible for scheduling a Tree Ordinance Review with the COA Arborist if there are trees of or greater than this size on the property and immediately adjacent to the proposed construction. Trees smaller than 59.5″ in circumference are not regulated and dead trees do not require a permit. For further detail, please refer to www.ci.austin.tx.us/trees/preserve_code.htm.
  • Neighbors are strongly encouraged to monitor the condition of trees on lots where construction is taking place because there have been occurrences where developers demo (possibly damaging trees in the process), let the lot sit, and the existing trees are left in ill health. After some time, the COA, who has once deemed these trees “protected”, has no power to enforce the Tree Ordinance since the trees are dying or dead. Report concerns to code enforcement at 311.

13. Where do I find out details about the new McMansion regulations restricting building and remodeling?

  • COA Council Members passed an ordinance on this topic and a website was created to provide current information on the topic: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/sf_regs.htm . The website contains detailed information about building construction changes, a tool to determine if a specific building project will be affected and a number to call for more information.

 

About High Residency Housing in the HPWBANA (Stealth dorms)

1. What is a stealth dorm and how many stealth dorms exist in the HPWBANA?

  • High residency single family housing, sometimes called stealth dorms or super-duplex, is usually single family homes/properties that are used or have been remodeled to accommodate a large number of rental bedrooms. Current zoning allows for 6 unrelated adults in a SF zoned home. It is not uncommon for these homes to be marketed to college students. Stealth dorms are appearing throughout the central Austin neighborhoods in single family homes and duplexes. Owners and builders can make many modifications to homes and still be within city code.
  • The HPWBANA is aware of about 5 stealth dorms within our boundaries.

2. What are the typical problems with stealth dorms?

  • Typical neighborhood complaints about stealth dorms include parking problems, excess and loud noise, congestion, trash and poorly maintained properties. Driveways are usually enlarged or converted to large parking lots to provide off street parking. Parking by visitors can add to the congestion and sidewalks are frequently blocked.
  • Another problem is the possible decrease in property values of neighboring homes. Property owners may find it more difficult to sell a home next to a stealth dorm. The large number of cars, garbage cans and large parking areas can give stealth dorms a different look.
  • It is important to note that not all stealth dorms cause neighborhood problems. College students using the house as a party house tend to generate the largest number of complaints.

3. What can the HPWBANA do to help out?

  • If the stealth dorm does not violate zoning codes and deed restrictions there is very little the HPWBANA can do directly. Sometimes there are zoning and deed restriction violations that can be used to the advantage of the neighborhood. Our zoning committee can help review a particular property. If a code violation is suspected the home can be reported to code enforcement (311).
  • Sometimes deed restriction violations that occurred years ago, such as duplexes and apartments, are targeted for stealth dorm usage. The HPWBANA encourages neighbors to enforce deed restrictions to minimize this.
  • The HPWBANA can help bring the property owner and neighbors together to discuss problems and concerns. Sometimes discussing issues and concerns and possibly amending leases can help.

4. What are the parking requirements for stealth dorms?

  • If the stealth dorm is a duplex then off street parking space is required for each bedroom and no more than one required parking space is allowed behind another parking space. The result is frequently a very wide parking area in the front yard of stealth dorms. Although providing off street parking is required, parking on the street does not violate code.
  • Code enforcement can be called to enforce parking violations although it is difficult because cars are moved so much during the day.
  • Front yard parking is currently allowed in the HPWBANA area. Areas must file an application with the city to make front yard parking a violation and the HPWBANA is investigating this process.

5. What can the city zoning department do to help out?

  • Code enforcement may be a useful tool if it is suspected that codes were violated or that more people are living in a home than allowed. Code enforcement has procedures for handling these cases. Calls can be made anonymously to code enforcement by calling 311. Most often the stealth dorms do not violate zoning ordinances.

6. What if the property owner converts a single family home to a duplex or apartment without the city approvals or violates deed restrictions?

  • Under the heading, “Construction or Remodeling without a Permit” on the COA Solid Waste Services/Code Enforcement website page, property owners or their agents must get a permit to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, demolish or move a structure. In addition, they must get a permit to change the use of a structure (for example, to change a residence into an office). You can research what permits have been issued at www.ci.austin.tx.us/pierivr/permit_menu.cfm. Report suspected violations to 311.
  • If deed restrictions are or have been violated see the section Q&A: About Building Changes, Deed Restrictions and Zoning in the HPWBANA

7. What can APD do to help out?

  • Calling 911 will result in an APD officer responding to the call to address any issues that exist at the time. APD can direct warnings and fines to the property owner.
  • Our APD area representative can help address repeating problems with noise and traffic violations by talking with the property owner and the renters directly. Our APD area representative’s name and contact info in on our crime page.

8. What is being done to change zoning to protect neighborhoods from high occupancy of single family residences?

  • We are very hopeful that occupancy will be limited to 4 adults instead of the current maximum of 6 for single family homes. City Council created a task force to investigate solutions of this highly debated topic and our zoning committee is actively involved.

 

About Enforcement and Miscellaneous Zoning

1. What is the process for code enforcement?

  • The City of Austin Code Enforcement is a division of Solid Waste Service. Making a code violation complaint is as simple as calling 311 and reporting the problem. This report can be done anonymously. A code enforcement inspector will investigate within 48 hours and verify if it is a code violation. If the inspector finds a violation then action is taken to ensure compliance. Property owners or tenants are responsible for correcting the violation. Code Enforcement can take legal action for non compliance or have the owner pay for services if the City of Austin corrects the violation.

2. How do I find out about the various codes that are enforced by code enforcement?

  • The various codes violations are summarized on the code enforcement webpage http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/sws/code.htm which includes description of the most common violations. You can also call their office.

3. Can people run a business out of their home?

  • Yes, although many restrictions exist. Home occupations accessory to residential uses are subject to the following limitations, per City of Austin Code: www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/downloads/home_occ.doc

4. What is the tree ordinance? What trees are protected?

  • Trees that are 59.5″ in circumference (19 inches in diameter), measured at 4.5 feet from the ground are classified as “protected size” trees under the COA Tree Ordinance, and are subject to a Tree Ordinance Review by the COA Arborist. A permit, issued by the COA Arborist, is required for 1) removal of a protected-size tree, 2) development exceeding allowable standards for encroachment in the critical root zone, and/or 3) removal of more than 30% of a tree’s crown. The applicant for a Residential Building Permit is responsible for scheduling a Tree Ordinance Review with the COA Arborist if there are trees of or greater than this size on the property and immediately adjacent to the proposed construction. Trees smaller than 59.5″ in circumference are not regulated and dead trees do not require a permit. For further detail, please refer to www.ci.austin.tx.us/trees/preserve_code.htm.

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