By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Rodgers Forge, a deed restricted neighborhood in Towson, Maryland is reportedly the first homeowners association-governed community to delete covenants restricting residency based upon race, religious belief, or national origin.
The Towson Times reports that volunteers from the 1,800 home neighborhood spent months searching and identifying 85 recorded covenants with racially restrictive language.
The group worked alongside their HOA and their neighbors to strike illegal restrictions under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The process was made a bit easier by state legislation passed last year.
Maryland State Del. Steve Lafferty and Sen. Joan Carter Conway joined forces in 2018 to pass SB 261, An Act concerning Real Property – Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin.
The law became effective October 1, 2018. It creates a streamlined process for removing illegal racial restrictions from deeds for common areas of HOA-governed communities.
In fact, the law requires HOAs to remove offending language prior to September 30, 2019. The Act also enables boards to amend illegal restrictions in governing documents without requiring a vote of members in the association.
A symbolic Act, with limitations
The act of amending deeds and governing documents of an HOA to remove illegal housing restrictions is purely symbolic.
Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, covenants limiting ownership or residency based upon race, religious belief, or national origin are already illegal. For more than 50 years, Fair Housing Laws have been enforced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or authorized state agencies.
But some homeowners feel a lot better knowing their home and community is viewed as a welcoming place to people of color and diverse religious or ethnic backgrounds.
But did you notice something odd about the Act? Despite the positive message sent by this symbolic gesture, SB 621 contains a curious limitation — the Act expires as of September 30, 2019.
Why would the bill’s authors, Maryland state Legislators, and advocates lobbying in favor of SB 621 enact a non-discrimination law that’s only good for one year?
Perhaps it’s because Counties prefer to collect their recording fees. That’s my hunch.
Only specific illegal language can be deleted
The language of the Act is specific to illegal restrictions involving race, religious belief, and national origin. An HOA that wishes to strike racially offensive language from common area deeds must submit changes to their County Attorney for review, prior to recording the amendments.
Once the County Attorney is satisfied that the HOA is striking only illegal restrictions under the Act, common area deeds are recorded and treated as if the discriminatory restrictions never existed.
For one year only, the County Clerk is not permitted to charge the HOA a recording fee for any such amendment.
Similarly, individual homeowners can also strike illegal language from deeds for their homes, and file without paying a recording fee.
Note that SB 621 law only allows HOAs to strike restrictive covenants that are already illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It does not apply to any other illegal or discriminatory language in common area deeds or declarations, such as restrictions based upon disability or familial status.
What happens as of October 2019?
As of October 1, 2019, a person can request an HOA to remove illegal restrictions from the deeds of common areas. And, according to the law, the HOA “shall” have 180 days to delete discriminatory language.
Now remember that, after September 30, 2019, the County Clerk will charge the HOA their ordinary recording fees.
But, as you can see from the strike-out language above, the Act contains no “teeth.” It is not enforceable as a discriminatory act under Maryland Fair Housing Laws. If a homeowner asks their HOA to remove racial or religious restrictions from governing documents, and they ignore the request, there’s no recourse under SB 621.
It’s another state regulation that requires an HOA to do something, but doesn’t investigate or prosecute complaints if the HOA fails to act! ♦
Read SB 621 An Act concerning Real Property – Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin
(effective Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019)
Rodgers Forge scrubs racist covenants from land records, becoming first Maryland neighborhood to do so
Libby SolomonContact Reporter | Towson Times
May 31, 2019 12:00 PM