Deed restrictions are limitations written into a deed to restrict the control, occupancy or use of a property. They are also known as restrictive covenants. Because these restrictions are written into the deed, they transfer with the property from the previous owner to the new owner when the home is sold.
Many subdivisions, especially newer ones, have deed restrictions to control the look and appeal of the neighborhood. The deed restrictions are recorded, usually by the original builder of the subdivision, so are available on line. They are typically called "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions and Easements."
There are also typically a set of by-laws for the association, which set up the rules for running the homeowners association. These usually cover definition of who are members, how voting will be done, rules for meetings, Board of Directors defined, powers and duties of Board of Directors members, rules for fiscal management of the association, parliamentary rules for meetings and rules for how amendments can be made to the deed restrictions.
Back to the deed restrictions. These contain the rules and regulations for land use and property standards for the homes in the community.
Typical restrictions would include how the property can be used. Here are some common items covered by HOA deed restrictions:
lots for residential use, no commercial activities on the property
what type of vehicles can be parked on the lot - often trailers, RV's, boats are restricted and cannot be parked where they can be seen
dwelling changes - you may have to have any improvements or changes to your home approved by the HOA architectural committee even if permits are not required by the county, such as changing paint colors or major landscaping changes
garages & parking - there are usually rules about not converting garages to living space, some have rules about no cars parked overnight on streets to driveways. Most have rules about commercial vehicles or vehicles with commercial signs not being parked on driveways overnight, they must be kept in garages.
accessory buildings - most have rules about adding sheds or other structures to the lot, ie what type are allowed (if any)
roof types - some HOAs have rules on what type of roofs you may install as they want to keep things uniform throughout the community
fences - some HOAs have rules on whether you can install fences and what type if allowed
Solar panel equipment, satellite dishes, clothes lines, window AC units - most have restrictions on if/how and where you can install these
Rentals - most newer HOAs have rules on how often you can rent a home, such as no unit may be rented more than twice a year and cannot lease for a period of less than 6 months.
These homeowner associations will also charge dues or fees on an annual, quarterly or monthly basis to maintain the common grounds and run the business of the HOA.
Some people hate deed restrictions, they feel they restrict what they can do with their property. Others like deed restrictions because they do give an overall standard for the subdivision that all homeowners must maintain, thereby keeping up the property values as a whole. Homes in deed restricted communities tend to sell for higher prices than homes in neighborhoods without deed restrictions.
Some people want to park their boat or RV on the side of their home, or their work van on the drive, hang their laundry on a line behind their home or park cars in their front lawn. Others find those things an eyesore and don't want to look at them on a daily basis.
The bottom line is, if you are looking at homes in a subdivision with a mandatory homeowner's association, be sure to get and read a copy of the deed restrictions and by-laws before you write an offer so you know what you will required to comply with should you purchase there. I'd also recommend getting a copy of the most recent budget and at least the past 3 months minutes of the Board of Director meetings so you can find out what issues they are discussing.