Starting next year, King County will allow landowners to formally remove racist language from their property’s chain of title.
Racial pacts are provisions registered on certain properties that explicitly prohibit members of certain religions or people of specific national, ethnic or racial origins from buying or occupying the property.
Researchers at the University of Washington have found more than 500 records containing racist or discriminatory restrictions applying to more than 20,000 properties. While their interactive map is not an exhaustive list, records have been found throughout the city, including Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and nearly every area north of the Ship Canal.
“No person, except the Caucasian race, will ever be allowed to own, occupy or reside in said premises, with the exception of the capacity of a servant”, states a restriction of 1945 for a subdivision in Lake Forest Park covering 184 plots on the UW project site.
While these provisions have not been legally enforceable for decades, the language can still be a hurtful reminder of the history of the United States of housing discrimination and segregation.
Since 2019, owners can file a “modification of restrictive covenants ” through the King County Recorder’s Office, which effectively adds a document to the file amounting to a formal disavowal of the language and finds that the discriminatory provisions are null and unenforceable.
According to King County, adding an amendment document legally strikes the language but does not physically erase the provisions of the original document.
However, next year, homeowners will also be able to remove the discriminatory provision from their property’s chain of title by going through King County Superior Court and then requesting a replacement from the registrar’s office. Although there is no charge for filing new files with the Registrar’s office, filing with the Superior Court costs $ 20.
The King County Archives will keep the original documents for historical purposes, but the new option allows owners to separate historical records from future real estate transactions.
The new option is the result of a bill passed by state lawmakers this year that will give landowners the ability to remove an illegal and discriminatory pledge from their property deed. The law also funds more research to find racist pacts and educate landlords.
The form that home sellers provide to buyers during a sale should also include a disclosure whether there are any covenants or restrictions registered against the property under the new law.
How to know if your property file contains a restrictive covenant
While research from UW and Eastern Washington University should reveal more alliances with racist language, nothing is preventing King County residents from examining their own homes.
If you have walked the UW Covenants Database, another way to search for them is to search for land titles maintained by the county registrar’s office and county archives. You may need information like your parcel number and the legal description which you can find on the King County Assessor Plot Map.
Another way is to look at your landlord’s title insurance policy, which is usually issued at the time the property is purchased and identifies documents appearing in public records related to the property. If your policy references deeds from decades ago or commitment documents for an entire subdivision, you can request copies through the title company or use the information to obtain copies. from the registrar’s office.