Fleming’s historic bill to repudiate racially restricted deed covenants becomes law

HARRISBURG, Jan. 29 – Gov. Josh Shapiro today held the ceremonial bill signing for state Rep. Justin Fleming’s H.B. 1289, which was signed into law as Act 54 of 2023 in December. The law helps rectify the legacy of biased housing practices by making it easier for property owners to repudiate discriminatory deed covenants.

“Restrictive covenants and practices like redlining for decades resulted in massive inequality in wealth and home ownership rates for communities of color,” Fleming said. “Act 54 of 2023 will right 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 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.

According to Fleming, this harmful and discriminatory language still exists in many property deeds, although it is no longer enforceable.

Act 54 of 2023 impacts all restrictive covenants for classes of individuals covered under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and will allow a property owner to repudiate the covenant. Under the new law, a property owner or homeowner association can file a form with the county’s recorder of deeds office to repudiate a restrictive covenant at little or no cost.

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