By Bob Katzen
In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racist “white only” language in property deeds prohibiting Blacks and other racial minorities from living on the property were illegal and unenforceable. However, under current Massachusetts law there is no mechanism in place to remove covenants from property deeds and they remain in the deeds of hundreds of homeowners across the state.
The Judiciary Committee last week accepted written testimony on legislation, filed by Rep. John Barrett (D-North Adams), that would allow the state’s land courts to approve a property owner’s request to remove racist language from their property deeds. Barrett explained that some property owners in his district brought this issue to his attention when they learned that they had a “white only” covenant in their property deed. Barrett cited one covenant that states: “No persons of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any buildings or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”
“Not many were aware when they bought their homes that the covenant language was included in the deed,” said Barrett. “Knowing this language is there is unsettling, to say the least. As one homeowner said to me, ‘It is not who we are.’ This is an issue which impacts the entire commonwealth, especially where homes and developments were built prior to 1945.”