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Getting rid of racist deed restrictions

Let’s get this done.

Sen. John Whitmire

A bill was proposed in the Texas Legislature two years ago that sought to make it easier for homeowners to remove unconstitutional, unenforceable and discriminatory provisions from real property records.

State Sen. John Whitmire said he did not catch wind of the proposed legislation until late during the biennial session, which ended without it coming to pass.

This year, though, the longest-tenured legislator at the state capitol in Austin is determined to help the bill become Texas law, which would be welcomed by many of his constituents in his hometown of Houston.

“It’s my priority among my priorities,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire has filed Senate Bill 214, which is identical to House Bill 485 authored by State Rep. Gene Wu of Houston, in the legislative session that began last month. If the bill makes it through both chambers and is adopted by state legislators, it would become Texas law on Sept. 1.

The legislation, first introduced two years ago by Wu, would allow homeowners in neighborhoods such as Garden Oaks and Oak Forest to more easily remove the racist provision in their longstanding deed restrictions that say only members of the “Caucasian race” are allowed to own homes in the communities or even live there. The restriction has been unenforceable for decades under state and federal law, but it remains in Harris County property records and continues to be an eyesore and embarrassment for residents of both neighborhoods.

“I would love it,” Oak Forest resident Ashley Cavazos said. “If this bill comes to pass, hopefully it provides a pathway for the entire neighborhood.”

Cavazos is the leader of a volunteer neighborhood initiative called Oak Forest Deed for Change, which aims to remove the racist language from the deed restrictions by amending and restating them through procedures outlined by the Texas Property Code. But the process has proven exhaustive, because updating the deed restrictions in the seven Oak Forest sections that contain the offensive language requires the approval of at least 75 percent of property owners in each section.

Cavazos and her fellow volunteers have started with Section 4. Eight months into the effort – which has included regular Zoom calls, pro bono work by attorneys in the neighborhood and a signature party – she said signatures have been obtained from only about 25 percent of the section’s property owners.

Here are SB214 and HB485. The updated language would allow a single homeowner to remove the unconstitutional language from the deed restrictions for their neighborhood with a single filing. This is one of those things that should have happened a long time ago, but it wasn’t. This would be a good time to call your own State Rep and State Senator and tell them that you support these bills, because the biggest enemy to them is time and the attention that other bills will demand. The more visibility that a good bill that isn’t going to have any real opposition can get, the better.

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12 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    “The updated language would allow a single homeowner to remove the unconstitutional language from the deed restrictions for their neighborhood with a single filing”

    What could go wrong with this? Heck, I’ll just do a single filing to allow boats, RV’s, 18 wheelers and other vehicles to be permanently parked in driveways, get rid of those pesky restrictions on parking on the grass, or even, mowing the grass.

    And paint? Who wants to be dictated to as to what color paint is OK, or when the paint is mildewed or peeling and needs to be cleaned up? I’d do a single filing to get rid of all that, too. Same for loud noise bans, etc.

    Ashley Cavazos should take the hint that after pounding the pavement for almost a year, she only got the woke 25% of her neighborhood to sign her petition. Nobody else cares, Ashley. The restriction hasn’t been, and can’t be enforced. In fact, I’d bet that no one living there even knew about the caveat buried in their documents until you brought it up.

    If I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t sign. Just go with the song, Ashley……let it go. As you found out, in the real world where people have jobs, mortgages, kids, worries about the power going off because the windmills are frozen, etc., no one really cares about you being offended, Ashley.

  2. C.L. says:

    Bill, you may have missed the point. The legislation would allow the singe filer removal of UNCONSTITUTIONAL language in the deed restrictions. Best I can tell, the Constitution doesn’t reference dry docked boats in a residential driveway.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    What’s the practical implication of that, C.L.? We all agree the language not enforceable. Will the homeowners all be required to hire lawyers to have their deed documents changed? Great! You just cost every homeowner in the neighborhood to shell out money for something they never even knew they needed or wanted.

    Law of unintended consequences in action, right here.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    *caused

  5. David Fagan says:

    If a home owner wanted to do this, they should be able to.

    Good luck with everything else cause if I could change whatever I wanted in a deed, it would involve mineral rights and not RV’s, boats, or house paint.

  6. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Figures Bill would be all in on the side of “we should not allow homeowners to remove the ‘caucasians only’ provisions from their deeds.”

  7. Ross says:

    David, mineral rights? There are very few HOA controlled properties where the mineral rights are owned by the HOA members. Besides, minerals are subject to different laws. If you are thinking about restricting development of minerals, deed restrictions aren’t going to work.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Robbie,

    Go back and re-read what I wrote. I’m against using the legislature to “break” the deed covenant. If the homeowners of that neighborhood overwhelmingly vote to change it, more power to them! Go with God! What we have seen, however, is Ashley can’t convince enough of her fellow homeowners that they need to shell out money for HOA attorneys, and then, their own attorneys, to ‘solve’ a problem that never bothered them before.

    Let’s look at a comparable. Ashley comes to your house selling Girl Scout cookies. You don’t want to buy Girl Scout cookies, so Ashley gets mad and gets a law passed that FORCES you to buy Girl Scout cookies you do not want and do not want to pay for. That’s what is happening here.

  9. David Fagan says:

    It’s a one page law, wouldn’t take long to read, but

    a provision that:
    (1) violates the United States Constitution;
    (2)is unenforceable underlaw; and
    (3)is unambiguously discriminatory.(c)petition under this section must be filed in a district court of the county in which the instrument is recorded.

    (d)court may not charge a fee for filing a petition under this section.

    It also doesn’t state that the home owner would be forced to change it, only it gives people the ability without doing all the work required, which sounds like that’s why it wasn’t done in the first place. It’s sound like, by the article, it’s easier to go through the state than to get 75% of the signatures, and that says something. If someone doesn’t want to sign a petition to get rid of discriminatory language, I don’t think signatures should be an obstacle to an owner wanting to change their deed.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    David,

    What do you want to bet that Ashley isn’t going to personally pay for the attorney to file the petition on behalf of the HOA? No, she’s going to get all the HOA members, the homeowners, to pay for that. If Ashley wanted to pay for the whole cost herself, then I would withdraw my objection. But that’s not what is going to happen. She’s going to FORCE her fellow homeowners not only to care, but to pay.

  11. David Fagan says:

    This law would circumvent all of that and allow Ashley to file for her own deed and leave everyone else alone. So, your concerns, which are legitimate, are relieved by the law also. So, that’s good.

    It’s a one page law, quick read. But, it also can apply outside Ashley’s area also.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    OK, here’s the actual bill:

    https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/HB00485I.pdf#navpanes=0

    It does look like Ashley can pay for her own attorney to change her own deed, without impacting any of her neighbors, so I guess I’m OK with this, but there’s still the slippery slope argument, going to the legislature to get around deed restrictions someone doesn’t like, vs. getting the neighbors subject to the restrictions to change it directly via the HOA.