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How this project helped change state law

Twice the Washington State Legislature has changed state law in response to the work we have done to uncover the history of racial restrictive covenants. On March 15, 2006, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law Senate Bill 6169, which makes it easier for neighborhoods governed by homeowners associations to rid themselves of racial restrictions that are still in their by-laws. State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, introduced the measure after this project focused attention on the lingering effects of these covenants. More recently, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SHB 2514, introduced by State Representative Christine Kildruff. The new law allows a property owner to record a modification document that will provide notice in the land title records that the racially restrictive covenant is void and unenforceable. Both measures are describe below:

SHB 2514 -- AN ACT Relating to discriminatory provisions found in written instruments related to real property (signed March 15, 2018)

Effective January 1, 2019, property owners may submit documentation that "strikes" any racially discriminatory language from property records. Proposed by State Representative Christine Kilduff, the new law allows a property owner to record a modification document that will provide notice in the land title records that the racially restrictive covenant is void and unenforceable. It will not delete the historic record. The modification document legally strikes, but does not physically erase, the void and illegal discriminatory provisions from the original document. This action is neither required nor necessary. As explained on this page, racial restrictions have been void and illegal since 1968.

The Washington State Association of County Auditors is charged with facilitating the filing of modifications, for which there is no fee. Here are several documents that explain the process:

Introduction and FAQ

Instructions

Form for modification (WORD)

Form for modification (pdf)

SHB 2514 law amending RCW 49.60.227 and 64.38.028


SESB 6169 -- AN ACT Relating to discriminatory provisions in the governing documents of homeowners' associations (signed March 15, 2006)

Shortly after the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project published the initial version of our database of racial restrictive covenants in 2005, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced and the legislature passed a law urging homeowners associations to expunge racist restrictions. This followed a sequence of publicity. First the Seattle Times picked up the story (“Homeowners find records still hold blot of racism” by Lornet Turnbull, June 3, 2005). Her article focused in particular on Innis Arden, an area governed by a neighborhood association, where for years some residents had sought unsuccessfully to remove racist language from the by-laws. The Times followed wih an editorial asking the state legislature to “authorize the courts to expunge racial covenants from all properties covered by homeowner associations.” (“An ugly stain of racism exposed”, June 6, 2005)

In early 2006, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced and the legislature passed SESB 6169 which declared that

"The continued existence of these discriminatory covenants, conditions, or restrictions is contrary to public policy and repugnant to many property owners. It is the intent of this act to allow homeowners' associations to remove all remnants of discrimination from their governing documents."

The law lowered the threshold for approving by-law changes involving such provisions, empowering the Board of Directors to make the changes and requiring the Board to act. "Upon the board's receipt of a written request by a member of the association ... the board must, within a reasonable time, amend the governing documents, as provided under this section."

Innis Arden quickly amended its by-laws. It is not clear how many other neighborhood associations have complied.