On June 27, 2023, the Pennsylvania House voted 199-4 to pass House Bill 1289 to the Senate. The Senate has referred the bill to it’s judiciary committee and will be reviewing the bill later this legislative session.
The bill provides a process that allows property owners to repudiate racially restrictive covenants from the original language of their property deeds or charters without jeopardizing the validity of the documents. It also uses state funding, allowing property owners to file for repudiation in the recorder’s office, and not be charged for the service.
Racially restrictive covenants, or any requirement that discriminated who could live or use a portion of land on the basis of race, was held unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment in the landmark Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948.
In that case, homeowner associations (HOAs) had written racially restrictive covenants into homes in subdivisions that required those who owned or used the premises to be Caucasian. The HOAs sued families of color to force them out of their homes. The state court ruled in favor of the HOAs, and the families appealed to the federal courts, claiming that state court intervention to enforce a racially restrictive covenant was discrimination based on race. The Supreme Court ruled that enforcement of the covenants by the courts was unconstitutional, and discrimination based on race.
Today, it is illegal for there to be any kind of racial discrimination for land use.
However, older deeds and charters may still contain racially restrictive covenants, even if their enforcement is against the law.
HB 1289 allows private landowners, boards of commonly owned land, and unit owners of commonly owned land to file for the inflammatory language to be repudiated and struck from the deed or charter. Filing for repudiation does not affect the validity of the deed or charter.