Grey Davis signing into law legislation banning Restrictive Covenants.
Imagine the thrill of a first time homebuyer
when they purchase their own home a place that represents stability
and comfort. Now, imagine the feeling of shame they would feel if
they read the following words in their property title documents: "No
person of African, Japanese, Chinese, or of any Mongolian descent shall
be allowed to purchase, own, or lease said real property, or any part thereof,
or to occupy, except as servants . . ."
Sadly, it was not unusual for California residents
to be confronted with this type of language when purchasing a new home.
Even more disturbing, homeowners were often met with resistance when they
attempted to remove these provisions from declarations governing their property
even though race restrictive covenants are no longer legally enforceable.
As of January 1, 2000, however, new
California law (http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/bill/sen/sb_1101-1150/sb_1148_bill_19991010_chaptered.pdf) prohibits the existence of any covenant that violates fair housing law in documents governing real property. "With
the passage of this law, the State of California becomes a truly more honest
and fair place for everyone who makes a home here," declared Art Agnos,
Secretary Representative for the Pacific/Hawaii region of HUD.
"The existence of these kinds of covenants
has a chilling effect on prospective buyers or renters in a community,"
said George D. Williams, former director of HUDs Pacific/Hawaii office
of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "If youre a minority
. . . youre not going to feel particularly comfortable moving there."
Professor Mark Blank wondered why there werent
enough minorities in his middle class San Francisco subdivision. Then,
shortly after moving into his home, he discovered that a racially restrictive
covenant governed every home in his subdivision tract. The clause
stated that "No person other than one of the White Caucasian Race shall
rent, lease, use or occupy any building on any lot in said Tract, except"
for nonwhite, domestic servants employed by either an owner or tenant.
"The clause is so absolutely vile,"
said Blank who is a white Vietnam veteran and describes himself as a "product
of the civil rights movement." "I was offended. . . First
I tried to convince myself it was something [the homeowners association]
put in 60 years ago and never got around to changing."
Blank spent three unsuccessful years trying
to get the association board members to remove the covenant. "Then
I realized its intentional," stated Blank. Finally, Blank
filed a fair housing complaint with HUD in 1998. After protracted
negotiations and HUD involvement, the homeowners association eventually
agreed to amend its declaration to eliminate the offensive provision.
At the same time, and responding to the growing
number of fair housing complaints and the surmounting media attention regarding
race restrictive covenants, San Francisco Community Builders decided to
take proactive steps to eliminate the covenants. Lynn Martinez and
May Jaber examined numerous title records and researched historical and
legal implications, discovering that race-based covenants still exist in
many documents that govern housing subdivisions built during the 1930-40s.
"Although the law declared race restrictive covenants to be invalid
and unenforceable, no law expressly prohibits, or seeks to correct, the
existence of race restrictive covenants," said Martinez. "As
a result, declarations that contain these offensive provisions are regularly
disseminated to the public by title and escrow companies, county recorders,
homeowners associations and real estate practitioners. In fact, since
these declarations tend to exist in older "starter home" neighborhoods,
they are disseminated to, and discriminate against HUDs clients:
first time homebuyers and lower income families."
Ms. Martinez and Ms. Jaber discussed the problem
with State Senate President pro Tempore, John
Burton (http://www.sen.ca.gov/burton/), who decided to carry a bill to prohibit the actual existence
of race restrictive covenants in California. "We provided technical
assistance to Senator Burton in the drafting of his bill, SB 1148, and in
the development of its legislative history and testimony," said May
Jaber. "We also provided information and education to fair housing
and other pertinent groups, which developed into a groundswell of support
for the proposed legislation."
After passing through the California Legislature
by unanimous vote, SB 1148 was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis on
October 2, 1999. The final bill text reaches beyond race restrictions
by expressly prohibiting the existence of any restrictive covenant that
discriminates against any person protected under the California fair housing
act. The law further clarifies that the existence of any such restrictive
covenant in itself constitutes prohibited discrimination. Accordingly,
homeowners associations are required to amend their current governing
documents to delete such covenants and are subject to legal action if they
fail to do so in a timely manner.
In addition, the new law requires all persons
and entities who regularly disseminate declarations to provide the following
notice in at least 20-point bold face red type:
"If this document contains any restriction based on race, color, religion,
sex, familial status, marital status, disability, national origin, or ancestry,
that restriction violates state and federal fair housing laws and is void.
Any person holding an interest in this property may request that the county
recorder remove the restrictive covenant language pursuant to subdivision
(c) of Section 12956.1 of the Government Code."
The law further provides that any person who
files a document for the express purpose of adding a racially restrictive
covenant is guilty of a misdemeanor.
With the passage of SB 1148, the existence
and dissemination without notice of discriminatory covenants is expressly
prohibited throughout the State of California. In a recent letter
to HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, Senator Burton commended the Community Builders
for their role in this successful legislation. "San Francisco Community
Builders Lynn Martinez and May Jaber have provided invaluable assistance
to my office with my proposed legislation to eradicate race restrictive
covenants in the State of California. . . I commend HUD Community Builders
on their proactive efforts to address fair housing problems in California."