Everything to Know About a Racial Covenant

Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Executive Realty 91362

What to Know About Racial Covenants

Without a doubt, we have a dark past. To learn what went on many years ago in our country is disgusting. Many had hate in their hearts. Since then, we have come a long way, but racism still exists.

After researching house covenants, I learned quite a bit about racism in the real estate sector.

Have you ever heard about racial covenants? If you don't think so, I'm not surprised. I would be in the same camp until just recently.

For the thirty-six years I've practiced real estate, restrictive covenants in home sales were always assumed to be more about a property than the human race. Little did I know there was also a seedy underbelly waiting to be discovered.

We will look at the general meaning of house covenants and a detailed look at racially restrictive covenants.

You may be surprised by what you learn here.

What is a Restrictive Covenant?

In real estate law, land-related covenants are called real covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CCRs). They can also be called deed restrictions.

Most restrictive covenants come with restrictions on how the land can be used (negative covenants) or require a specific continuing action (affirmative covenant).

Property covenants may also run with the land (referred to as a covenant appurtenant). This means that future landowners must abide by the terms outlined in the covenant.

Covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) control what property owners can do within a community. The original developer usually creates CC&Rs for the community.

The intention of having covenants, conditions, and restrictions is to protect the property values of those living in the community.

Restrictive covenants are almost always found when a homeowners association exists, but they can also be present when there is no HOA.

What Are Racially Restrictive Covenants?

A racial covenant is a type of agreement that limits housing sale, rental, or occupancy to people of a particular racial or ethnic group.

In the last century, it was commonplace for white people to put language into real estate deeds that prevented other races and ethnic groups from purchasing property within particular neighborhoods.

These racial clauses inserted into property deeds prevented black families, those of Jewish decent, and oriental families from owning in many places.

Racial covenants to this day can be found in property records across the United States.

These racially motivated covenants were legally-enforceable contracts that stipulated the property had to remain in the hands of White people. They ran with the land, which meant they could be enforced perpetually.

Anyone who dared to challenge this ban risked losing their claim to the property.

A significant number of properties had racial covenants preventing sale to non-white people.

While such covenants would target several different racial groups, they were primarily used to keep black people from buying property. The discrimination was based on the notion that black people would decrease property value.

The Dark Origins of Racial Covenants

The real estate industry created racial covenants at the beginning of the 20th century to reshape the urban landscape.

Working together to improve the environment of rapidly growing cities, they promoted parks, playgrounds, gardens, zoning, and land usage. It helped map out areas separated by residential vs. industrial uses.

At the heart of this planning was white supremacy. There were strong beliefs that mixed-race residential neighborhoods were detrimental and should be abolished.

The National Association of Realtors Were Involved

More shocking than anything else was The National Association of Realtors participating in this disgusting behavior.

Believe it or not, in 1924, it was put into the code of ethics that  "A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood."

This was totally out of character for such an outstanding organization today, as this language suggests.

Steering became a significant part of the real estate landscape, forcing blacks into specific areas of major cities and towns. It laid the pattern for segregation in our country.

Racial deed restrictions became even more commonplace in the United States after 1926 when the Supreme Court ruled that they were legal. These restrictions were typically used to prevent black Americans from purchasing or living in homes in white neighborhoods.

The United States Supreme Court changed its position in 1948. The court decided that racial covenants were no longer enforceable.

Unfortunately, that did not stop communities from enforcing these awful restrictions. Until 1968, Realtors and owners could discriminate based on race.

Congress passed the Housing Rights Act in 1968, which outlawed discrimination based on race or ethnicity in the sale or rental of housing. This act helped to ensure that everyone would have equal access to housing opportunities regardless of their background.

Fair Housing Laws Are Introduced

The tide started to turn when fair housing laws were introduced that real estate agents and property owners were required to follow.

The United States signed into law under President Lyndon B Johnson the Civil Rights Act of 1968 during the Martin Luther King assassination riots.

Racially motivated covenants became illegal and unenforceable. Under the fair housing act, discrimination is unlawful based on any of the following conditions:

  • Basis of Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Disability
  • Familial status

A real estate agent guilty of these discriminatory practices could lose their license to practice.

Final Thoughts

While discrimination still exists today, we have come a long way. Most sound-thinking, morally correct individuals don't identify someone by the color of their skin or where they came from.

We are all equals. To think about how some people were treated years ago can make me sick to my stomach.

Discrimination should never be tolerated, whether you are a buyer or a seller. If you encounter an agent making any racist remarks, fire them. Agents like this need to be taught a life lesson.

Change comes when you don't look the other way.

Posted by

With three decades of experience, Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate sector. Bill writes informative articles for numerous prestigious real estate sites to help buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Placester, Realty Biz News, Credit Sesame, and his own authority resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. Reach out to Bill Gassett for his real estate, mortgage, and financial expertise.

Comments (8)

Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Bill - real estate title issues can reveal much about our history.  Sometimes the steps we take are smaller than we may like; hopefully moving forward is the direction we continue to take.  

Nov 23, 2022 05:45 AM
Bill Gassett

Very true!

Nov 23, 2022 08:28 AM
Joe Jackson
Keller Williams Capital Partners Realty - Columbus, OH
Clintonville and Central Ohio Real Estate Expert

This is an excellent post with great information. Thanks for sharing it.

Have a super fantastic week!
Joe Jackson, Realtor-KWCP

Nov 23, 2022 07:22 AM
Bill Gassett

I appreciate the comps Joe. It is amazing sometimes what you find out with a little research.

Nov 23, 2022 08:28 AM
Mark Don McInnes, Sandpoint-Idaho
Sandpoint Realty LLC - Sandpoint, ID
North Idaho Real Estate - 208-255.6227

Hello Bill,  As with your research for this post, I was shocked and dismayed, and quite frankly embarrassed at what the movie "The Butler" brought forth.  Within our own government and White House hypocrisy to an extreme.  Recent years not early 1900's.  Good post, glad to see it Featured.  m  

Nov 23, 2022 12:56 PM
Bill Gassett

It really is amazing, especially the NAR being a blatant participant.

Nov 24, 2022 05:43 AM
Pete Cullen ~ Broker Associate, GRI,CRS
Bailey Properties, Inc. - Santa Cruz, CA
Serving The Entire Monterey Bay Area

Thank for sharing!  We all have work to do ...

Nov 24, 2022 08:09 AM
Kimo Jarrett
Cyber Properties - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

RE discriminatory laws were in place long before you or I became an agent. Every agent is aware of these laws and while I agree with you about racism, I don't believe we are all equal.

Because of our Constitution, we all have equal rights but each and every person is unique. Our nation is a land of opportunity to pursue happiness and prosperity. It's our choice, isn't it, we can make things happen or watch them happen.

We can not change the past but can change our future, yet, when our electorate chooses incompetent people to influence change and make laws that defy our Constitution, we'll have a major challenge. Dare I say, it will be discriminating. Only time will tell. 

Nov 25, 2022 11:39 AM
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

I’m glad those days are over but we still have a long way to go.

Nov 25, 2022 12:57 PM
Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Very important history to understand to know what happened and why.  Thankfully, this is all public knowledge and hopefully, we can eradicate this kind of behavior.  Recently, I read a Q & A from an Arizona attorney stating that CC & R's in Arizona without an HOA may end up with civil litigation.  Hard to enforce CC & R's without a formal HOA.  Good to know when helping buyers!

Nov 25, 2022 07:49 PM