Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth
Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house is about four times too small to be permitted by the covenant conditions. Image: wsifrancis via Flickr

According to Brisbane-based architect Russell Hall, governments weaponise developers with the right to inflict buyers with the developer’s whims as conditions of purchase via covenants. He says this can make homes unaffordable and unsustainable. 

My dad was chairman of the Moreton Shire from the early sixties to the late 70s. Moreton Shire surrounded Ipswich and abutted Brisbane. 

The Queensland Goss government exterminated the shire in the early 90s  via state government fetishes that bigger is always better. The shire was then largely rural with an expanding suburbia for the lower socio-economic level. Home ownership in the neighbouring cities required greater wealth.

At an irate rate payers meeting, Dad was verballed by demands, “when are we getting our sealed road?” “Why haven’t we got reticulated water?” “We’re still crapping into a can because the bloody council won’t sewer the area!” “And we want kerb and channelling.”

Dad answered, “You see those blocks over there with all your wants? They paid $25,000 for them. You paid $5000 for yours.” 

So, those who purchased all services with their land are levied with increased rates to provide the same services for those who did not pay.  

Local governments solved this by new blocks being splendid with modern-day services, plus, infrastructure costs added for the upgrade of sewer and water treatment plants etc. The result: no low-cost blocks.

Throw developers of subdivisions into the mix. They moan like wounded bulls about how local governments disable them from being Mother Teresa for land ownership. Just get out of our way and it will be Shangri-La for all. 

Well, I too have a lime green pig, purple at the saddle, gossamer wings, dead straight tail – and it flies! 

Governments weaponise developers with the most heinous privilege: the right to inflict buyers with the developer’s whims as conditions of purchase via covenants. 

Anything built on land is already burdened to comply with: [1] local government conditions via the myriad of controls of town plans, [2] state governments with building codes and development standards, [3] the federal government with Australian Standards and its coordination of the National Construction Code. Surely this is enough!

Some often-seen covenants conditions warrant consideration to see how obscene this privilege is. Some examples follow.

Improvements [Dwelling] to be constructed within a specified time. Assume two years, maybe shorter, maybe longer. This is none of the vendors business. You have been paid. Rack off!

Avarice knows no hypocrisy. Land developers land bank over decades in the knowledge that an ever-increasing population will furnish them with riches. Yet they have the gall, if some person buys a block to build there in 20 years when they retire or whatever, to control them with a covenant to build in two years max. Since they land banked, why shouldn’t a purchaser of minor means be able to do the same and build or sell when they choose?

Materials to be to the vendor’s taste. Most common was/is a brick and tile covenant. Again, absolutely none of the vendor’s business. Your family owns a sawmill, and you cannot help your kids by wanting to build in timber. A metal roof was preferred because of its better hail performance. So, when 150 mm diameter hail, as recently happened near Brisbane smashes the roof tiles to smithereens and the house is inundated to unliveable standards the vendor is at the door saying, “so sorry about that, I will meet all your costs caused by the covenant conditions.” My pig just broke the sound barrier. True!

The most likely scenario is the vendor’s contract signed by the buyer indemnified the vendor against all consequences caused by the covenant conditions.

Minimum areas and/or construction cost is, again, no business of the vendor to control post sale of the land. The vendor should honestly advertise, “only rich people who want a palace dimensioned house allowed to live here.” 

In another shire abutting Brisbane is a large lot subdivision requiring the house to be 600 square metres minimum. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house is about four times too small to be permitted by the covenant conditions. So, extremely expensive small houses designed by architectural gods are banned. The only requirement is big. The answer has been big splats of ugly slab-on-ground houses at the lowest cost per sq m.

Recently making the news was a developer suing for a transgression of covenant because a homeowner installed photovoltaic panels on the north facing street elevation – the best orientation for maximum power supply. No developer should have such a right. They do not live in the house; they don’t pay the electricity.

All levels of government must exterminate sellers of land access to covenants of which many are inequitable and apply only their numerous regulations. All this domineering right for vendors does is inflict their fetishes upon home ownership, making it more expensive.

Progress esteems the synthetic over the natural. Councils banned water tanks with every conceivable reason possible when reticulated water came on tap; same with sewers and thunder boxes. Don’t dare question sealed roads and kerbing.

Ironic, when today the un-serviced block may well be the most economical low-cost housing answer that is environmentally appropriate.

High-set the house on an over-sized concrete water tank, install a composting toilet, design the roof for a highly efficient photovoltaic array with battery backup – no water and sewer rates, no electricity charges and compost to fertilise the veggies. Seal the carriageway only to reduce dust. Use the runoff water to grow a dense suburban forest to road verges. The result: substantially reduced recurrent expenditure.

There must be one covenant over all lot owners, controlled by local government: should they demand all the modern day whizz-bang services the cost should be levied on them and only after 75 per cent agreement of owners. 

I went to primary school in the metropolis of Harrisville. Its location requiresno description as many would be aware of the renowned saying, “All roads lead to Harrisville.” 

There were 90 kids at the school in the 50s. A couple of old fellas wandered the streets as town identities. One was Spit McGrath. He would shake his head, spit and make utterances such as, “you can’t black out the moon, you can’t black out the moon.” My dad told me he was a farrier’s son and got booted in the head by a horse as a 19-year-old and this impacted his brain.

His family once owned the land that accommodated the premier social building of the town, the lawn bowls club. To get to the club, all had to pass Spit’s humpy of beaten up old corro iron, a ramshackle mess. Spit lived his life as a welcomed integral citizen of the town,

Low-cost home ownership is more possible to those in need with values they can afford. Inhumane grotesque tastes should not be inflicted upon them.

PS. I am, delighted to advise, my pig is the first to successfully land on the moon and return to earth. His body colour has slightly changed, the lime green is now brindled with gold streaks.

Russell Hall is a Brisbane-based architect with experience in residential, retail, commercial and industrial design. He is interested in designing whatever comes along.

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  1. Dont forget that banks encourage land owners to build 4 bedroom double garage houses otherwise they might be undercapitalizing. Worse still because the banks see no value added to the site they will not loan extra money for driveways grass letterbox and retaining walls unless of course it is tied up in neat package deal and hidden in the house price. So 2 or 3 of the (1 or 2 residents) bedrooms remain unused or underutilized for years. But at least the banks can value the house and land as it is worth the same as the rest of the street/neighbourhood. Ironically if we built these houses closer to the CBD then the rooms could be rented out. No wait there are restrictions on that as well.