Finding Racially Restrictive Covenants

Last week, The New York Times ran a Jackie Calmes article discussing the vetting questionnaire being distributed by the Office of the President-Elect. Here are links to the article and the questionnaire.

Answers provided to many of the 63 questions can be verified using public records. This includes Question 28, which concerns restrictive covenants:

Racially restrictive covenants were ruled unenforceable by the US Supreme Court in 1948 and officially outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Some states have created legal procedures to remove illegal restrictions from individual parcels but most homeowners have no idea whether their property carries a deed restriction on the race, religion or ethnicity of an owner or buyer.

Here's how to find out:

As a rule of thumb, assume that any house built before 1968 or added to a development built before 1968 carries some form of covenant being probed in Question 28. To verify this, start by obtaining a copy of the property deed. The deed and the list of covenants and restrictions on the property can be found at the county recorder in the county in which the property is located. The covenants and restrictions on the use of the property won’t be spelled out in the deed but their whereabouts will be referenced -- sometimes by a book and page number and sometimes simply by the name of the development.

In the case of condominium developments or private single-family homes in private developments, these covenants and restrictions will be found in the rules of the respective owner’s association overseeing the property. These rules are also the most likely place that restrictions on the gender or sexual orientation of the owners or occupants will be found. If these exist, they will most often take the form of restrictions on who can live in the property (i.e., owners may not allow people to whom they are not related by either marriage or blood to live in the property, can’t rent to people not related by marriage or blood, etc.)

Also, keep in mind that the restrictions probed in Question 28 won’t stand alone, they will be part of a longer list. In the attached example, for instance, the racially restrictive covenant (on page 2 of the PDF) is included with restrictions on building materials, fence and building height and setback requirements.