Historic bill to repudiate racially restricted deed covenants passes PA Senate

HARRISBURG, Dec. 14 – The Pennsylvania Senate made history Wednesday by unanimously passing state Rep. Justin Fleming’s legislation (H.B. 1289)  that would help rectify the legacy of biased housing practices by making it easier for property owners to repudiate discriminatory deed covenants.

“The progress of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups has been stifled by restrictive deed covenants and practices like redlining, resulting in massive inequality in wealth and home ownership rates,” Fleming said. “My legislation would help rectify this historic wrong by making it easy and affordable to repudiate discriminatory language from these documents.”

A covenant stipulates what existing or future owners can and cannot do to a property. Racially discriminatory real estate covenants were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 under the Shelley v. Kraemer decision, ruling that these covenants are unenforceable under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. In addition, the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited deed covenants that discriminate against protected classes.

Although these covenants are no longer enforceable, Fleming said this harmful and discriminatory language still exists in many property deeds.

Fleming’s bill impacts all restrictive covenants for classes of individuals covered under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and would allow a property owner – should they choose – to repudiate the covenant. Under the bill, a property owner or homeowner association could file a form with the county’s recorder of deeds office to repudiate a restrictive covenant at little or no cost. Fleming has pledged to work with the PA Recorders of Deeds Association to develop simple forms that counties can use.

Pennsylvania would become the 23rd state to allow for the nullification or repudiation of unenforceable deed restrictions.

The bill now heads to governor’s desk to be signed into law.