Illinois homeowners can now remove racist clauses from their title deeds

A new law in Illinois allows landlords to amend their title deeds to remove racist clauses that have been used to prevent people of certain races and religious groups from buying homes or living in a particular neighborhood.

The covenants, known as racial covenants, were banned under the Fair Housing Act in 1968, but they remain buried in an unknown number of property documents across the United States – relics of a wider effort real estate industry, federal housing authorities and individual landlords to prevent integration.

In many states, it can be difficult or impossible to remove covenants from property records, prompting states like Illinois to pass laws that streamline the process. As of Jan. 1, landlords in the state can submit a request to their county recorder to have covenants removed. The cost per request is capped at $10.

Since 2018, at least 13 states have passed laws to make it easier to remove race pacts from acts. A bill to do so in New York is pending in the Legislative Assembly.

One of the first people to apply for the amendment in Illinois was Nicole Sullivan, who has been trying to amend her deed since around 2011, when she bought a house in Lake County in northeast Illinois. State.

Ms Sullivan’s homeowners association had sent her a copy of the deed, dated March 1929, to explain why she could not create a fenced area for her dog on the property.

She was intrigued by the document, then alarmed when she found a clause stating that the house could never be sold or occupied by “one or more persons of African or black race, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish or Hebrew, or their descendants”. ”

Ms Sullivan, who is white, and a neighbor tried to have the language removed but continued to run into roadblocks. Eventually, they approached State Rep. Daniel Didech, a Democrat from Buffalo Grove, who, along with State Senator Adriane Johnson, also a Democrat from Buffalo Grove, sponsored legislation allowing changes to the General Assembly of Illinois. Governor JB Pritzker signed the bill into law in July.

Ms Sullivan, 41, said the law change was largely a symbolic victory and that there was still much to be done to improve housing equity in her community and across the United States, but she hoped the law would help make her neighborhood more diverse.

“We are stopping this cycle of recycling this language in our community, so new community members interested in putting up a fence will no longer have to read how their ancestors would not have been allowed to be there,” said Mrs Sullivan. .

It is unclear how many property documents in the United States use race covenants because they are in private agreements. Local efforts are underway in many cities and counties, including Cook County, to find and catalog these records.

A study by Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois found that by the late 1940s, more than 220 Cook County subdivisions had created or adopted racial covenants.

“This subdivision is reserved for the use of persons of the Caucasian race,” read an agreement registered in September 1946. “This restriction does not apply to servants.”

No one had filed a request to change their property record in Cook County as of Wednesday afternoon, Sally Daly, assistant communications clerk for the Cook County Clerk’s Office, said in an email.

Chloe Thurston, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said the use of race covenants expanded after a 1917 Supreme Court ruling that barred cities from designating neighborhoods for specific racial groups, but they did not apply to private contracts.

Racial covenants were later used by real estate agents and federal housing authorities to prevent integration. In 1927, Nathan William MacChesney, a prominent attorney, drafted a model racial covenant for the Chicago Real Estate Board that targeted only black people. The Federal Housing Administration also recommended that racial covenants be included in the homes it insured.

In 1948, the Supreme Court rendered existing racial covenants unenforceable, but Shelley v. Kraemer did not completely prevent their use. Twenty years later, the Fair Housing Act made the new covenants illegal.

Professor Thurston, who is the author of ‘To the Limits of Property: Credit, Discrimination and the American State’, said it was worth asking whether the energy expended on changing laws to to delete these unenforceable clauses has come at the expense of resolving more pressing issues. home equity.

Racial covenants and other forms of housing discrimination such as redlining, have reduced the supply of housing for black families and therefore their ability to pass on wealth to future generations, the professor said. Thurston.

There is a longer legacy of other restrictive processes, she added, that “will not be resolved by simply removing language from an act that most people don’t think about or see.”

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