Restrictions on discriminatory acts can now be removed in Ohio

For countless years, Ohioans and Americans implemented racist clauses like this until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed them:

“[N]o part of said property or any part thereof shall be … occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, the intention being hereby to restrict the use of said property … by persons black or Mongolian people. ”

Such restrictions, used in conjunction with redlining to separate quarters, no longer have any effect. But they still remain in at least thousands of current Ohio property deeds as remnants of a bygone era.

That could change soon.

Under the state budget bill that became law this month, licensed real estate attorneys now have the legal backing to remove discriminatory clauses from future acts whenever a property is sold or transferred. .

“I am very happy to see this outdated practice which prevents individuals of certain races from coming to an end,” said Representative Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, who sponsored the legislation alongside Representative Dontavius ​​Jarrells, D-Columbus. . “There have been situations where discriminatory commitments in the deeds of transfer of property have been limiting for people because of their race and other status – this is unacceptable. “

Prior to July, whether a lawyer could independently remove a discriminatory clause in a deed of transfer of ownership was a legal gray area, said Peg Ritenour, legal counsel for the Ohio Realtors Association, who requested the new change. Usually, most provisions are carried over from an old to a new act.

Some lawyers were making the switch, Ritenour said, but others held back for fear of legal liability.

“Lawyers are reluctant to do something that is not specified for them in the law,” she said.

The new law not only gives the green light to lawyers, but also to homeowners a way to remove the language if they choose. It’s significantly cheaper than the other legally backed option – hire a lawyer and go to court to review a deed, said Beth Wanless, a lobbyist for the Realtors Association.

Should county recorders be able to make the switch?

The reform differs slightly from previous legislative efforts to remove discriminatory clauses.

In 2017, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor lobbied for a bill to allow homeowners to access their county recorder and erase discriminatory language in online versions of deeds. property.

Asking people to go through licensed attorneys to change a deed is the smart thing to do, Wanless said.

“We thought lawyers were the best equipped and the best informed to suppress this kind of language,” she said. “If the recorders did that, it would be really, really hard.”

Not only would county recorders have to navigate through amending deeds, which are legal documents, but recorders could also have to spend hours and money changing documents, some argued.

O’Connor called the new law a step forward, but is still pushing for his 2017 proposal. Current, not just future, acts could be addressed, although Wanless noted that not all counties had to. ‘acts online.

“For me, it’s about empowering owners and giving people the ability to make the statement and get rid of some really bad things that were there before,” O’Connor said.

The new law, on the other hand, only applies to future acts to come. Ohio law prevents the original acts from being amended, which is part of the reason why O’Connor’s proposal only had online versions of the editable acts.

Altering an original deed can lead to chain of title issues. Additionally, historians and academics use these acts to better follow this language to help understand redlining and systemic segregation.

Ultimately, none of this will have a concrete impact on the issue of housing inequalities in the state. But symbolic actions are important, advocates say, because even words can have an impact.

“This legislation is a step forward in ensuring that Ohio is a desirable place to live, work and raise a family for everyone,” Jarrells said.

Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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