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Taking Action Against Racial Covenants in Washington Property Deeds

Covenants restricting ownership to white people are not uncommon in old Seattle-area property deeds. Homeowners can now put in requests to legally strike the offensive language.
January 15, 2019, 1pm PST | Camille Fink
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While the U.S. Supreme Court deemed racial covenants unenforceable in 1948, the language was commonly written into property deeds in neighborhoods throughout the Seattle region, reports Katherine Long. However, a Washington state law passed last year allows homeowners to request that county auditors strike the provision text from deeds.

Long says the covenants were included in different ways—sometimes written directly into deeds or neighborhood association bylaws, where they are more easily identified:

Often, however, they are written up separately from the deed, and referenced in the subdivision’s plat documents, or neighborhood maps that show properties plot by plot. When you buy a house, the title company will give you a warranty deed that includes a reference to another document that’s not part of the paperwork; that hidden document is where race restrictions on ownership are often found.

An ongoing study of old property records has shown that restrictive covenants were in deeds in many Seattle neighborhoods and suburbs. While the covenant text cannot be fully removed from a deed, striking the language repudiates them, says James Gregory of the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

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Published on Monday, January 7, 2019 in The Seattle Times
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