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Unlawful, discriminatory restrictive covenants

Unlawful, discriminatory restrictive covenants

Research by the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project uncovered more than 500 deeds and covenants containing racial, religious or other discriminatory restrictions that apply to at least 20,000 properties. See the UW’s interactive map showing some of the subdivisions known to have deed provisions or restrictive covenants. This map is not exhaustive.

Supreme Court rulings and state and federal law make these restrictions illegal to enforce. 

Property owners have three choices if their property has an unlawful, restrictive covenant associated with it. As of Jan. 1, 2022, real estate transactions will require disclosure of restrictive covenants. You can file a Restrictive Covenant Modification, have them removed, or do nothing to change the property record.

  • File a Restrictive Covenant Modification. Filing this document through King County Records and Licensing costs nothing.  It effectively removes reference to the offending document from your chain of title.
  • Have the covenant removed. Washington law allows for the illegal language to be struck by bringing an action in Superior Court. Filing through Superior Court costs $20. Property owners will then need to provide the new records to the King County Recorder’s Office for filing at no charge. 
  • Do nothing to modify or remove the covenant. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

In the first half of the 20th Century, covenants were recorded on some properties in Washington which included restrictions on who could legally purchase or occupy the property. These provisions sometimes singled out people from specific races, national origins, or ethnic backgrounds. Other versions limited ownership or use to one particular race. Sometimes the restrictive covenants limited ownership or use by members of certain religions.

No. In 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that restrictive covenants could not be enforced. In 1968, the federal Fair Housing Act banned covenants discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. In 1969 the Washington Law Against Discrimination included all protected classes and makes such covenants void (illegal). That law law says that it is an unfair practice to attempt to honor a restrictive covenant in the chain of title. The chain of title includes all the recorded documents that affect title to a property, back to the original conveyance by the United States.

HB 1335, passed by the state Legislature in 2021, funds research for the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University to identify restrictive covenants on private property and inform property owners. See the UW’s  interactive map showing some of the subdivisions known to have been unlawfully restricted through deed provisions or restrictive covenants. This map is not exhaustive.

Or you can do your own research. One option is to search the land title records maintained by the King County Recorder's Office and the King County Archives. These records are public, so you can search them for free. This can be a complex process and fees are charged for copies.

You can also review your owner's title insurance policy, which is typically issued at the same time the property is purchased. A title insurance policy identifies documents appearing in the public records that affect title to the property. Your policy may reference deeds recorded decades ago, or covenant documents affecting an entire subdivision. You may be able to request copies from the title company that issued your title policy, although a fee may be charged. You may also use the recording information in your title policy to get copies from the Recorder's Office.

Information on this page is adapted from the Spokane County Auditor.

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