EXPUNGEMENT OF RACIST “WHITE ONLY” LANGUAGE IN PROPERTY DEEDS

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 these covenants from property deeds and they remain in the deeds of hundreds of homes for homeowners across the state.

Last week the House gave initial approval to a bill 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 explains 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.”

“Last year I was informed that several homeowners in Williamstown learned their property deed contained a ‘white only’ covenant,” continued Barrett. “Under Massachusetts law there is no mechanism in place to remove covenants from property deeds. [When] these covenants were found to be illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court, people wanted them removed. This legislation will give people a mechanism to remove restrictive covenants.”

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