Bill to repudiate racially restricted deed covenants passes PA House

HARRISBURG, June 28 – A bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Fleming, D-Dauphin, that would make it easier for property owners to repudiate discriminatory deed covenants passed the House today.

A covenant stipulates what existing or future owners can and cannot do to the 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 (H.B. 1289) impacts all restrictive covenants for classes of individuals covered under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and would allow a property owner 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.

"The shameful legacy of restrictive covenants and practices like redlining have created massive inequality in wealth and home ownership rates among people of different races,” Fleming said. “This legislation would make it easy and affordable to repudiate discriminatory language from these documents.”

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

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.