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(This post is an entry in our spring content contest. If you’d like a chance to win a Beretta APX pistol, click here for details.)

By Anner

I write this as a word of caution, so that you may avoid the same mistake I made. I was born on farm land in west Texas, raised properly with an abundance of opportunities to safely and productively shoot firearms. My family moved around the country to follow my father’s job, and we enjoyed firearms even in commie states such as Illinois (still have my FOID card as a reminder of our brethren fighting the good fight).

I’ve shot competitively in both military and civilian shooting events, as a team and individual. I have my CHL/LTC in three different states, and carry whenever possible. I imagine my perspective on firearms mirrors that of many TTAG readers.

I moved to Taylor County, Texas a couple years back. I purchased a 15 acre lot about 20 miles southwest of Abilene. It’s way out in the country along a county road with cedar trees so thick you can’t see but one or two houses from the road. At the time of sale, closing on the second mortgage of my life, I didn’t give a proper read through the title policy. It clearly references deed restrictions (DR), though it doesn’t provide a full copy of the restrictions themselves. A visit to the Taylor County Clerk’s office shows that those DR include a clause:

5. Nuisances and Firearms: No noxious or offensive activity shall be carried on upon any of the property nor shall anything be done thereon which may be or may become an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood. Use of firearms on any tract is strictly prohibited.

Oblivious to any applicable DR, and of the mindset that 15 acres in rural west Texas is plenty to safely enjoy some target practice, I shot as a matter of training, family entertainment, and sustenance (deer). I’ll save you the sob story of how my neighbor initiated a harassment campaign at my place of employment, but it wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully, my chain of command was understanding and have all had “that neighbor” next to them. I attempted to reach an agreement with my neighbor, offering multiple times to only shoot when he and his wife were out of town, or essentially ask their “permission” before I shot. They refused my offers, citing the DR as justification to order me to completely cease shooting.

There are 30 total unique properties out here in this neighborhood. All of them but my neighbor routinely shoot for target practice, pest control, or hunting. In late 2015, my neighbor filed suit against my wife and I for the use of firearms, to the dismay of the rest of the neighborhood.

The legal battle consisted of seven months, four pre-trial hearings, hundreds of hours of research and work by myself and my wife, a trial by judge, and $15,000 in attorney fees. Most of the neighborhood testified that they’ve shot routinely for years, overwhelmingly abandoning the DR.

Tracking everyone down to testify, out in the country where gathering names and numbers for 30 families is a gigantic pain, took a lot of work. There are 18 total clauses in the DR, prohibiting chickens, specifying the type of structures that can be built, etc. 100% of the DR clauses are violated in whole or in part by at least one neighbor; every neighbor (including the plaintiff) is in violation of at least one clause.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Before committing to a property purchase, take that address to the county clerk’s office and research deed restrictions. Review them carefully, and if in doubt, take them to a title or civil litigation attorney for clarification.

2. The Clerk’s office also has public records of all types: Warranty Deeds (showing who actually owns what lots), overview charts showing the layout of each neighborhood (plats), surveys showing the defined boundaries of each lot, etc. Viewing these documents is usually free; printing them cost me $1/page, or much more if I wanted a large-print plat or certified copy.

3. Once you narrow down the properties/houses you like, walk up to the neighbors’ houses that surround it. Talk to them, see how they interact. If I’d done so, I would have realized that 28/30 owners out here are red-blooded Americans and enjoy the country. That 29th owner (I’m the 30th) is a complete dick, and unfortunately I moved in right next to him.

4. Document, document, document! My job has taught me to take notes as soon as an issue arises, because you’re likely to see it again. I started logging every round fired, every interaction with my neighbor, and other details as soon as he initiated his harassment campaign in 2014. Some of those notes, especially my shooting log, were helpful while on the witness stand; I could reference them to demonstrate how much of an effort I’ve made in mitigating noise, such as investing substantial resources into suppressors and selecting subsonic ammo whenever practical. I also had physical evidence of my attempt to reach an agreement with the neighbors, showing the judge that I had tried my best in resolving this outside of court.

5. Once you move in, get to know your neighbors. In rural areas, if an emergency arises (floods, tornado, wildfire, etc.), we don’t have a robust alert system. By knowing the neighbors and having their phone numbers ready, we could raise the alarm rather quickly. In situations such as this lawsuit, already knowing who to contact for a history of the neighborhood, or to discuss issues with, is essential.

6. If you need to lawyer up, then lawyer up like a boss. We initially hired someone we knew, whose background is in criminal law. That cost us some opportunities, such as filing paperwork that could have forced the plaintiff to pay our legal fees if we won. We eventually hired a civil litigation attorney that understood property law quite well; he kicked ass. If we had gone big from the beginning, we could have walked away with $0 in legal fees.

The big picture may seem quite clear: A family sits on 15 rural acres, safely enjoys some target practice and deer hunting, and a neighbor is being a dick. However, civil litigation gets murky quickly. During our trial, the judge challenged both attorneys on the issues of what constitutes abandonment, what constitutes the plaintiff’s waiver of his right to enforce the DR, etc. I admit I was worried for a bit, thinking that the details of the case may prevail against us.

But we freaking won. The first round I fired after the judge’s decision was with my Ruger Scout Rifle (proudly unsuppressed for that occasion). I saved that .308 empty and mounted it in a frame in the garage. That round cost me $15,000, I’m not gonna lose it.

I urge you to avoid this issue entirely, to do your homework on property deeds. County judges in west Texas may side with you, but holy crap it’s a painful process.

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  1. Yeah… getting a lawyer specializing in your kind of case is critical. Just as with engineers, specialization matters… a lot.

  2. What was the final decision? Did they strike down all or any of the deed restrictions from everyone? Did they just say that your neighbor didn’t have standing until actual damage was caused? There’s a lot more about how much it cost you, but I’d love to know in more detail what happens from here.

    • Nothing, really. The final judgment was bland. It states that no damages are awarded to the plaintiff. If the issue arises again we’ll have some previous material to rely on, but the DR are technically still on the books. The DR contain a mechanism (neighborhood vote, 2/3 majority) to delete them, so we may go that route.

  3. When I am interested in a property, my first question is whether or not there are restrictions on the deed. If there are any restrictions, I don’t even look at the property.

    • My dad raised us to always read the fine print. For my sister that proved its worth when she and husband found what by every measure was the house they’d dreamed of… except for the fine print. Restrictions covered what kind of colors they could paint the house (all earth-tone pastels), what kind of siding they could have (nothing using petroleum chemicals in the material), and more — even what kinds of flowers they could plant out front!

      My sister went through with a black marker and crossed out over four-fifths of the fine print and then signed. They wouldn’t accept it that way even though she was offering cash on the table right then.

      So they didn’t get their dream house, but they did get a house where they could pursue their own dreams.

  4. Had to knock Illinois huh?My buddy in rural Illinois can shoot all he wants on HIS land…yeah look at the fine print.

    • I live in Illinois and will knock it. Are you actually fucking defending it?
      FOID is bullshit and there is next to no 300+ yard ranges. Try fining a place to shoot over 300 yards in central Illinois.

    • 15 acres is tiny. It takes 640 to equal even a single square mile. My sister had a full half a mile between her and her nearest neighbor. Still took a stray round into her house.

      • 8′ tall, 20′ wide earthen backstop with hundreds of trees beyond that. Every round I fire stays on the property. It took some work to build it, but it was worth the effort.

    • Since the invention of property taxes, you don’t ever “own” anything. Quit paying your taxes, men with guns come and throw you off your property, foreclose it, and sell it to whoever, for whatever, and you’re just out.

      • “Since the invention of property taxes, you don’t ever “own” anything.”

        Become familiar with the concept of ‘Homestead exemption’ with regard to property taxes.

        In Florida the first $50,000 of assessed value of your primary home is tax-free. Florida has other protections like bankruptcy protection as long as you are making your property payments.

        Famously exploited by O.J. Simpson after his murder acquittal years back…

      • It’s uninspiring. It doesn’t strike down the DR, it just says the defendant won and each party is liable for their respective fees. No damages awarded.

        • Would it be worthwhile to pass on the results of the verdict to other firearm rights lawyers to build precedent for the next guy who goes through that?

          I’m thinking along the lines of the NRA’s legal branch and the SAF…

        • Geoff: probably not. The heart of the matter was civil property issues, there was no mention of constitutional rights. The only reason I submitted this to TTAG is the effect on ones ability to shoot on their land.

  5. So – let’s take a hypothetical. The neighbor may have decided he didn’t want to live near gunfire. He researched a property, found out that it had deed restrictions against gunfire, and decided “yep, this is what I want”, and puts down his hard-earned cash and buys his dream lot.

    Then, years later, some guy moves in next door and starts firing off guns. The neighbor says “look, you can’t do that, right here on the deed restriction that you signed, it says you can’t.” He even goes to court to enforce the legal documents that were binding at the time he (and you) bought the property. But you win — stripping him of something he paid for and a specific reason he bought where he did.

    He read the documents, you didn’t. And yet he’s the bad guy?

    Sorry, I’m for the first amendment right of freedom of association. If someone wants to be away from something, and they follow the law, and they bought specifically into a deed-restricted community for that purpose, then I don’t see it as a triumph when someone undercuts that.

    (and yes, I know other neighbors violated it at times, but obviously not enough so that he felt he had to sue over it… does that mean we have to be proactive and sue everyone, every time they do something, or we lose our rights? Because that would suck.)

    • Freedom is association is not the same as freedom of disassociation. Your right to chose who you associate with is not so broad as to decide who gets to live next to you, and it shouldn’t be so broad as to determine what those people can do on their property- subject to reasonable regulation\restriction. Is it reasonable to tell someone he can’t fire a .308 at 1AM on a weeknight? I think so. But what about a .22LR on a saturday afternoon, based on some idea of principle? I suspect if both parties had been reasonable this would never have gone to court (always a safe assumption). But since it did, I prefer it come out this way.

      If you want to completely exclude things that annoy you from your life that other humans do, I think you’ll need to buy enough property that you can’t hear anything they do.

      • Exhibit B. I had dates, times, type of caliber fired, subsonic/super, suppressed/non all documented. I made every effort to remain as quiet as possible, even walking out to a spot to see if their vehicles were absent before firing.

        • And every time you fired, you violated the DR. Would it piss you off if your new neighbors put in a hog farm?

        • DR that were wholly abandoned by the entire neighborhood, including the plaintiff. The judge agreed.

    • If your hypothetical jerk next door cared so much for the deed restrictions, why didn’t he obey all of them himself?

      • The author appears to have bought property in a deed restricted HOA/POA, as I have done numerous times. Each time I read and agreed to the restrictions. WTF is the problem here? Your naïveté does not preclude the brighter residents from living the way the community was designed.

        • That’s the intent. It was my second property purchase, and I learned a lesson. That lesson is posted here so others can benefit.

    • The plaintiff himself shot occasionally, to both hunt and target practice. He didn’t like that someone else was doing it. Two other neighbors are city cops and live a half mile away. They also shoot occasionally, have for years. When this heated up, the plaintiff attempted to file a complaint at the police dept but he wouldn’t use their names. He never approached them, never directly asked them to stop, just went nuclear at their place of employment.

    • Every neighbor violated multiple restrictions. The plaintiff testified that he himself would shoot on his property. He may have purchased peace and quiet, but he had a separate set of rules for himself.

      The intent of the article isn’t to brag about a win. It’s to caution folks to do their homework before purchasing property and avoid the pain.

      • ” The plaintiff testified that he himself would shoot on his property.”

        Interesting. What was his response when asked about that in court?

        It seems to me that should have shot his case down cold right then and there…

        • It bolstered our claim of abandonment. I had photographic evidence of other clauses he had abandoned: no culvert installed, trailers on his property, etc.

    • It sounds like the noise of gunfire didn’t bother the dude that much, since he didn’t complain when the other 28 property owners were doing it before our humble correspondent moved in.

      As with almost all disputes of this type, I suspect there was more going on than just the gunfire/deed restriction issue. Some personalities just don’t mix, no matter what. Oil and water.

    • “…does that mean we have to be proactive and sue everyone, every time they do something, or we lose our rights? Because that would suck.”

      Yes, and yes it does. It is not uncommon for restrictions to be abandoned for lack of enforcement. As the saying goes, the law helps the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights.

  6. That sucks. There was a brief time period, I think a few years back you could shoot your gun in a neighborhood in Florida. This came about because some cities and whole counties where no discharge areas. Monroe County being one of them. I lived in Monroe which is the Florida Keys for a while. We would go out 5 miles on a boat and try to shoot floating coconuts. Operative word being try! Boat moving coconut moving equals not easy.

    Then the no discharge law was overturned. After that you could shoot in neighborhoods with 7000 sqft lots! As long as it was done so safely in a safe direction with back stop. Not sure how possible that is on such a small lot. It didn’t last long before they came up with lot size and other restrictions. It didn’t effect me by then so don’t take my word for it. But kinda interesting if you’ve lived in Florida for a while.

  7. No pity. Buy the ticket, take the ride. The fact that it was about shooting doesn’t automatically make it my concern or put me on the side of the bigger gun entheusiast. Neighbors have these squalid arguments about cutting down trees, putting in a Johnny Weismuller, cars on blocks, etc.

    • Not looking for pity or support. I won. I don’t state that to brag, merely to state the fact.

      The intent is to bring awareness of civil property issues so others can be smarter than I was.

  8. Being that I have not had to endeavor on the journey to property ownership, how can the government restrict you from using your private land how you please? By how you describe it, it sounds to be fairly rural and it does not sound as though you are causing any real issue, so how can the county restrict your deed? I’ve always shot on family land so I am not too certain how this would be enforced.

    • An owner of the land registered restrictions upon the deed before selling it.

      The purpose of this article is to dispel WIDESPREAD ignorance of the subject, so don’t feel bad about not knowing how it works yourself.

    • “…so how can the county restrict your deed?”

      As pointed out by FedUp, there’s a difference between a private owner placing restrictions on property when s/he sells it and regulations imposed by a county. In Texas, if your property is over 10 acres, there’s not much a county can do related to regulating firearm use. Different rules apply to municipalities (cities and towns). It makes sense (to me) that the amount of regulation depends on the size of the property and population density.

  9. Dead restrictions preventing occupancy by certain religious and ethnic groups were once common. Some may still exist. But all are unenforceable due to being considered “contrary to public policy” by the courts. And that was even before mid 20th century civil rights laws were passed. The same would apply to laws against guns, one would think.

  10. “Protective Deed Restrictions” = realtor-speak for “you don’t want to live in this neighborhood”.

    I once asked a realtor for a copy of the deed restrictions on a 5 acre lot that was advertised with ‘protection’, farmer’s widow had broken up the farm into pieces and restricted it, then the market crashed and she still had a few suddenly not so desirable lots. Restrictions had some nebulous language about outbuildings being ‘harmonious’ to the house’s design and color, specific stuff including minimum house size and roof pitch angles, and I just said “thanks, but no thanks”.

    • Roof-pitch and minimum-house-size restrictions have historically been used to keep out trailer/mobile homes or manufactured houses. Those types of restrictions are pretty common in many states and localities.

      • ” Those types of restrictions are pretty common in many states and localities.”

        Yep. Restrictions by themselves aren’t evil. If you pay good money for property it sure is nice that if some yahoo moves in next door and puts rusted cars up on cinder blocks in the front yard, there’s a legal mechanism to correct that.

        That kind of stuff *will* be highly detrimental to the value of your place when you go to sell it.

  11. Deed restrictions are not unusual at all. Some prohibit livestock, chickens and farming while others state no mobile homes or RVs as living quarters. Reasonable people see these rules and look elsewhere for property.
    It becomes a big problem when restrictions come after the property is owned and used for an activity now banned. This is debatable and worth arguing about.

    • Reasonable people read the restrictions, decide whether they can live with them or not, check out the neighborhood to see if they’re respected or not. Then they proceed with the purchase or not, depending on what they found. (Occasionally they might want to start a legal challenge before the purchase.)

      It’s becoming increasingly hard to find property without deed restrictions (or CCRs, or whatever acronym you’re used to) these days, so be aware and read the fine print.

      • “Then they proceed with the purchase or not, depending on what they found.” The problem with doing that in this case, is that Anner would have found that the restriction had been abandoned, hence your next sentence. “(Occasionally they might want to start a legal challenge before the purchase.)” You could also include in your purchase contract a contingency covering the issue, though it would be hard to test without starting a legal challenge.

  12. I didn’t know about deed restrictions. Covenants and HOA’s sure, but I’ve never heard of deed restrictions before.

    Good article.

    • Pretty much the same thing, but in this case there’s no HOA to enforce them. So it’s either through friendly means (talking it over) or the courts. I attempted the friendly means, even offering to shoot only when he wasn’t home. He didn’t budge.

        • If you are not using subs, it is still loud. Just not shatter your ears loud. And 15 acres is tiny.

        • I positioned the range to be as far from the plaintiff’s house as possible, with my house, pump house, detached garage, dozens of trees, and a barn between the two. The ground has a natural slope so the range is in a minor valley, reflecting noise straight up. I’ve stood on my front porch as my wife shot, much closer to the range than the plaintiffs house. Suppressed 22 and subsonic 9mm, which accounted for over 60% of rounds fired when I was keeping track, were silent. The only noise I could hear was a mild ping on the steel.

          I averaged out the shooting frequency and duration as well. For about a year, it was roughly 20min from first shot to last, about every 2wks. Those 20min included reloading mags, checking targets, etc. I was home most of that year, while both prior to and since my job has had me travel away from home over 50% of the time. I’d guess over the time I’ve owned the place the average frequency is every 4-5wks.

  13. This also highlights the value of a good realtor, who, if not already familiar with the restrictions, will make sure to get them to you and encourage you to read them before making an offer.

    A mediocre realtor won’t care whether you read them or not. A bad realtor will discourage you from even asking about them.

    • Pile on: realtors don’t give a crap about any applicable DR. They have no legal obligation to research them or inform you. That’s the job of the title insurance company. Realty is a blatant scam, but a good enough service that I’ve used it three times now.

      • Double dog pile:
        Buyer’s agents are THE biggest realty scam..
        Their commission is based on how much the property sells for.
        The property you are buying.
        And they work for you.

        Conflict of interest much¿!

  14. “If you need to lawyer up, then lawyer up like a boss.”

    Actually, the time to “lawyer up” is before you buy the property. Buying real estate without legal representation is like do-it-yourself brain surgery. A decent real estate attorney would have warned you about the deed restrictions.

  15. I have worked in the title insurance industry for many years. Here’s my advice: don’t rely on your realtor. If you’re new to this pay an attorney who knows real estate to help review everything. It’s probably the most money you’ll ever spend on something, don’t trust the person whose paycheck depends on this closing to have your interests at the top of their priority list.

  16. I recently bought a condo. There are deed restrictions. Nothing I can’t live with. The only one that may be a problem is that if I get a amateur radio license, there is a prohibition on outside antennas. There are efforts in congress to limit such clauses.

    • Stealth wire antennas are easy to deploy. if the HOA allows flag poles, those are easy to hide an antenna in too. Attic antennas aren’t the most efficient, but there are many articles out there on people working the world with them. I live in the sticks, but I don’t want to see the wires. I have one that is 130′ long and you can’t see it unless you are standing under it and looking up. A 33′ long wire will work 6M through 40M pretty easily, and no one can tell if it is your tree.

  17. You should have been given DR documents at closing.

    You may seek compensation from your real estate agent and lawyer for their negligence.

    • We briefly considered that. It turns out that the only notice they’re legally obligated to provide is a small excerpt in the title insurance that reads “Covered by XXXXXX, page XX, Taylor County something something”. If you know what you’re looking for, it obviously references DR. If you don’t know, as I didn’t, then freaking ask someone that does!!

  18. “my neighbor filed suit against my wife and I for the use of firearms”

    (Grammar Nazi says) ACHTUNG!!

    You don’t use “I” as a part of a compound object. You would not say, “My neighbor filed suit against I.” So here you would say, “my neighbor filed suit against my wife and ME for the use of firearms”. “My neighbor is suing me,” therefore, “My neighbor is suing my wife and me.”
    Or you could rephrase to say, “My wife and I are being sued,” because you do use “I” in a compound subject. “I am being sued,” therefore, “My wife and I are being sued.”

  19. We live in subdivision that has deed restrictions of no more than 4 domestic pets. Our Realor made sure we were aware of that since he knew we had dogs. We have Golden Retrievers and foster for a Golden Retriever Rescue non-profit organization. When we had 3 of our own we were limited to 1 foster at a time. We are down to 2 now so could take a “bonded” pair if needed. We live in a subdivision has a high percentage of homes that have dogs. I like living in a subdivision which has a lot of dogs. All the dog owners know each other and often stop and visit when out for a walk. Don’t think anyone would want to live next to a dog hoarder.

  20. The “Hearing Protection Act” can also be viewed as the “Neighbor doesn’t need to know that I’m shooting” act.

  21. 1) That is SH_T.
    2) Sweep that sh_t into a pile at your state level [Make sure your state either has, or enacts preemption clauses garnering the full gamut of possession and use of weapons regulations.]
    3) Hold your state reps feet to the fire on protecting weapons rights.
    4) Hold your state reps rest of their persons to the fire if they don’t comply with #3 above.

    They are all just your stupid neighbors who needed a job.

  22. 1. Read the contract, read the contract, read the contract.
    2. If all the neighbors are subject to the restrictions, and all of them are violating some particular clause, that clause is no longer enforceable. If you own a copyright, and don’t sue to keep someone else from using it, you’ll lose control of that copyright.
    3. You can’t contract for an illegal purpose. The house that my parents purchased when they married, in 1963, contained a clause that prohibited sale of the property to Negroes. Since the right to own property is enshrined in the Constitution, that clause was null & void on its face. If the original poster (Anner) bought a house with a deed restriction that prohibited the ownership or use of printing presses, would *anyone* defend that clause?

    • The DR didn’t contain any blatant civil rights infringements, such as not owning the property itself, and didn’t restrict the ownership of firearms, just the use.

      I say “just the use” as though it was a minor point, but no: that was the entire point of the suit. The central argument boiled down to widespread abandonment from all property owners, on all restrictions (owning chickens, extra buildings, no culverts, etc).

  23. Man stuff like this makes me very nervous about the house I’m getting ready to close on and neighbors etc. No deed restrictions, HOA, or etc but you can’t account for neighbors who might be assholes.

    The insanity of a guy who wants to be a dick for no logical reason and costing you a fortune to do it. I’ve dealt with complaining and chuckle headed neighbors in the past and I still can’t wrap my mind around why someone feels entitled to your business on your property when it is doing nothing to theirs. It’s almost enough to make a good man go bad isn’t it? Hell I lived next to a drug dealer who was a better neighbor than half the people I used to live around.

    • The good news: 28/29 of our neighbors are great. One is the neighborhood drunk and lets his dogs roam, but it’s a minor annoyance. He’s still a decent human being. We’ve become friends with several great Americans out there.

      One asshole nearly ruined it for everyone, but everyone stepped in to support us and ensure one property owner couldn’t exert his way of life on the whole neighborhood.


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