Wisconsin REALTORS® Rally Support for Legislation Addressing Discriminatory Deed Language

Wisconsin REALTORS® Rally Support for Legislation Addressing Discriminatory Deed Language

April 2024

WRA: Addressing Discriminatory Covenants and Deed Restrictions in WisconsinThough housing discrimination is illegal in the U.S. and racist covenants would be unthinkable in real estate deeds drafted today, the question remains as to how to handle offensive language that is still present in documents pre-dating the Fair Housing Act.  Communities across the country are finding ways to address this; in Wisconsin, the state legislature recently passed a bill that permits homeowners to denounce existing restrictive covenants and deed restrictions found in their deeds. The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA), an advocate of the legislation, launched a Call for Action to channel that support to the legislature.

Backed by the endorsement of its Public Policy Committee and Board of Directors, the association collaborated with bill sponsors from both parties in the Assembly and Senate, garnering bipartisan support for the initiative.  In essence, the legislation establishes a process allowing a property owner to record a statutory form with the register of deeds to discharge and release the covenant from the title.

Cori Lamont, WRA’s Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs, points out the importance of this bill for REALTORS®. “Potential homebuyers see the offensive language in land records in the title commitments as they are looking to purchase these properties, and it sours a process that is already fraught with emotion. We wanted to provide them with the ability to act.”

A conscious decision was made not to eliminate the offensive language from the land record. Lamont notes that everyone involved in crafting the new law felt strongly about not expunging the offensive language outright: “It is important to retain valuable historical context about the property’s past, so the bill does not delete or erase the language from the land record.”

“The enduring adverse effects of these historical discriminatory deed restrictions and subdivision covenants, which prohibited the purchase or occupancy based on race and other protected classes are evidenced throughout the state. Even though the language has been unenforceable for over 50 years, it has influenced the growth of communities in our state. Consequently, studies and reports based on the tracking of these discriminatory covenants and restrictions and zoning are prevalent in the state. A priority of the WRA is to increase housing and to help close the minority homeownership gap in our state, which ranks among the highest in the nation.” she reports.

Since the governor signed the legislation in March, the WRA is working on getting the word out to the public. Lamont adds that the Wisconsin REALTORS® Foundation is looking into covering the $30 recording fee for property owners who would like to record their objection by executing the newly created statutory form.  “This is a voluntary, not mandatory, opportunity for property owners, and the REALTOR® community would like to offer our support for steps like this,” she says. “During the legislative session, our members made this issue a priority. They engaged in discussions about the bill with legislatures during our February REALTOR® and Government Day, presented testimony before the Assembly Housing Committee, and actively participated in responding to our Call for Action.”

To learn more about how Wisconsin REALTORS® are addressing offensive discriminatory language in real estate deeds throughout the state, contact Cori Lamont, Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs, at 262.309.2724. To learn more about WRA’s Call for Action on this legislation, contact Director of Local and Grassroots Advocacy Nathan Conrad at nathan@wra.org or 608.556.1294;

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