Law requires removal of ‘racial pacts’ from property records

know about Law requires removal of ‘racial pacts’ from property records

Under a new state law, counties must now work to purge their property records of the decades-old racist language that once barred people of color from buying homes in California neighborhoods.

Starting July 1, the law also requires real estate agents and services to notify homebuyers if such bans, called racially restrictive covenants, are known to be attached to a property and help write the illegal rules.

While the U.S. Supreme Court found the compacts unenforceable in 1948, racial justice advocates say removing racist language is necessary to address the region’s painful history of discrimination.

“This law raises awareness that the compacts are not only our legacy, but their remnants are still in practice,” said Tomiquia Moss, founder of the Bay Area advocacy group All Home, which pushed for passage of the bill. bill last year.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was common practice for developers and homeowners associations across the country to include covenants in deeds and other property records to prohibit certain races and groups of people from moving into certain households. In the Bay Area, restrictive covenants remain on the books in neighborhoods from Oakland Hills to Redwood City and beyond.

Some property records include language such as “no person of any race other than Caucasian or White” may use or occupy the property, with the exception of “domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”

Other conventions from that time specifically bar residents of “African, Mongolian, or Japanese” descent.

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Restrictive covenants, along with discriminatory zoning laws and other practices, contributed to the enduring wealth gap between whites and people of color, experts say. As minority families were excluded from the housing market, they were often prevented from moving to areas with more resources and building equity in their homes, a springboard to wealth that can be passed down from generation to generation.

“Racial residential segregation in the Bay Area is not natural or simply a matter of individual preferences and actions,” states a 2019 report by the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. “Today’s patterns are in part the result of a wide range of coordinated tactics used to perpetuate racial exclusion prior to the enactment of state and federal fair housing legislation.”

In 2000, California established a process for landlords to remove racist language from property records. The new state law Assembly Bill 1466it now allows anyone, even those who do not own or live in racially compacted properties, to file a form requesting that county officials remove the language.

The law also requires real estate agents, title companies, and escrow services to alert a homebuyer if they know there are restrictive covenants attached to a property.

Ramesh Rao, a real estate agent in the South Bay, said the new rules shouldn’t be difficult to comply with.

“We already provide a number of notices to sellers and buyers in any transaction, and we will add one more notice to that effect,” Rao said.

To comply with the law, county records offices in the Bay Area are establishing programs to identify and draft covenants from their millions of property records dating back to the 19th century.

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Matt Yankee, head of the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, said his staff plans to use special software to help digitize, review and remove racial covenants from most registered county property records within five years. , and manually review the oldest remaining documents. that cannot be read by a computer. The agency also aims to allow residents to alert officials to racist language through its public records portal.

“We hope to have some kind of ‘report this document’ button,” Yankee said. “We want to know right away so we can take immediate action.”

But Stephen Menendian, a researcher at the Othering and Belonging Institute, is concerned that the wording of property records language could hamper efforts to study and map restrictive covenants in the state. The University of Washington found more than 20,000 properties in the Seattle area with racial pacts, the Seattle Times reported in 2019.

“This will make it much more difficult to know the extent of racial compacts in California,” Menendian said.