A little-known but highly effective legal group is working on drafting model legislation that would help property owners remove discriminatory, restrictive covenants from their deeds.
Deeds often contain all kinds of restrictions, especially in association-run communities. They might cover building height limitation, lease restrictions and even what color you can paint your house. But the Chicago-based Uniform Law Commission’s initiative is aimed squarely at racial discrimination.
Even though the Supreme Court struck down racially based covenants almost 75 years ago – and Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, outlawing discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity in the sale or rental of housing, in 1968 – racially motivated restrictive covenants can still be found in real estate titles practically everywhere.
Racial Covenants Once Common
Seattle, for example, is rife with racial deed restrictions.
“The language of segregation still haunts Seattle,” a local civil rights group reports. “It lurks in the deeds of tens of thousands of homeowners living in neighborhoods outside of the Central Area and the International District.”
The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project has found racially restrictive covenants attached to more than 15,000 properties in the region. Here’s a sample of what some say:
- “No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property.”
- “The lot, nor any part thereof, shall not be sold to any person either of whole or part blood of the Mongolian, Malay or Ethiopian races, nor shall the same nor any part thereof be rented to persons of such races.”
- “No person of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any building or any lot, except this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”
Similar language has been well documented in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago; Hartford, Connecticut; Kansas City, Missouri; Baltimore; and Washington, D.C. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve has found more than 4,000 instances of racial covenants in deeds in the City of Brotherly Love. And in Chicago, racially motivated covenants “are enshrined in the deeds of properties” in neighborhoods throughout the city, according to a Lake Forest College report.
In the San Francisco Bay area, a newspaper ad once proclaimed that “No negroes, no Chinese, no Japanese can build or lease” in Rockridge Park. (Note that the word “Negroes” was not even worthy of a capital N.) In Minneapolis, one deed said that neither the land nor buildings on it “shall never be rented, leased or sold, transferred on conveyed to, nor shall be occupied exclusively by person or persons other than of the Caucasian Race.”
Restrictions weren’t limited to preventing people of color from buying…