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New Kansas law will allow homeowners to wipe away racist language from property deeds

Homes in Roeland Park.
Juliana Garcia
Johnson County Post
Homes in Roeland Park.

A new state law allows Kansas homeowners a way to more easily remove racist language from their property records.

Signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly on April 19, an amended section of House Bill 2562 makes racially restrictive covenants — such as those that exclude Black and Jewish people within homes associations deeds — unenforceable under state law.

At the federal level, racist covenants in property deeds have technically been unenforceable since the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer.

The new Kansas law now offers homeowners ways to remove racist covenants from their property records.

This comes after the cities of Roeland Park and Prairie Village struggled for years to find ways to remove racist covenants from local property records. Last year, Roeland Park officials worked with local state legislators to introduce legislation in Topeka.

Homeowners now have a way to remove racist deed language

Racially restrictive deeds and exclusionary covenants are still scattered across the Kansas City metro, embedded deep in the bylaws of homes associations and subdivisions’ rules. They’re no longer enforced and homeowners are often unaware they even exist, but some residents and city officials say their lingering presence is a stain on their communities.

The new law largely deals with real estate consumer protection such as financial exploitation and housing discrimination. But an amendment to the bill states that any restrictive covenant in property deeds that violates state housing discrimination laws are “void and unenforceable.”

That amendment also allows individual property owners to remove racist deed restrictions through a certificate filed with the register of deeds that must include a number of items such as the current property owner’s name and a description of the restrictive covenant.

Property owners must pay any fees associated with filing the special certificate, according to the bill.

There are at least two homes associations in Prairie Village that have dealt with racist language on their books.

One of those is the Prairie Village Homes Association, which adopted a resolution in 2007 revoking racist deed restriction provisions, said Ron Nelson, a current Prairie Village city councilmember who also sits on the Prairie Village Homes Association board.

Prairie Village homes along 79th Street.
Johnson County Post
Prairie Village homes along 79th Street.

Nelson said the issue resurfaced in 2021, and the homes association has received comments from various homeowners about racist restrictions remaining in some of the original deeds’ language. The associations’ board has explained that all it can do is to revoke the previous restrictions, Nelson said.

Still, Nelson said there are historians and others who argue that trying to “sanitize historical documents” of their racist history would hide racism rather than face it head on.

“Racist restrictions are an abomination,” Nelson said. “But the only way to teach about the past is to be truthful about it — not to erase it from being.”

Prairie Village Councilmember Inga Selders, who spent months researching restrictive covenants in northeast Johnson County, said there is another now-defunct homes association in the city with some racist language on its books.

That is the former Prairie Forest homes association, Selders said, and its homes are off of 75th Street between Roe and Nall avenues.

Selders said she is glad to see HB 2562 offer an easier way to remove racist covenants from property records.

The issue of racist covenants in Roeland Park is coupled with the fact that there are no active homes associations in the city. This made it more difficult for the city to know which plats and corresponding documents had racist language on their deeds.

Still, Roeland Park amended its municipal non-discrimination ordinance in 2020 to outlaw racist covenants. Last year, Roeland Park worked with its state legislators to introduce bills that would give the city more power to remove restrictive covenants.

Now, Roeland Park City Administrator Keith Moody said the city has identified the plats and covenants with discriminatory language.

Northeast Johnson County may be ‘most impacted’

State Rep. Rui Xu, whose district encompasses all of Roeland Park and parts of Prairie Village, worked with Roeland Park city officials last year to introduce bills similar to HB 2562 in the Kansas Legislature.

HB 2562 was a bundle, Xu said, with legislators stacking two other bills on top of the original bill. One of those two other bills included the provisions nullifying restrictive covenants and offering a way to remove such language from property records.

While these covenants have been unconstitutional and unenforceable for a couple of decades, Xu said, it is meaningful to have a way to remove them from property records. Xu said it can be hurtful for a Jewish or Black property owner whose records state they cannot live in their home.

Xu said his guess is that he represents“the most impacted district” in all of Kansas in terms of where the most restrictive covenants are, maybe aside from some districts in Wichita.

“I’m up there, especially representing so many J.C. Nichols neighborhoods,” Xu said, a reference to the famed Kansas City real estate developer who helped established several northeast Johnson County communities in the early 1900s that were racially segregated.

“I’m really delighted, mostly for my Jewish and Black constituents who may be living in a house with one of these deeds on them and giving them a way to get them off the books.”

What happens next?

In Roeland Park, Moody said the city will work to redact the racist language and record new plat and covenant documents without such language.

“We are very pleased to see the legislation pass,” Moody said. “We are working with our city attorney on a plan of how to implement the provisions of the legislation.”

Prairie Village Deputy City Administrator Nickie Lee told the Post that the city has yet to review this issue and it is unclear how it will be handled going forward.

HB 2562 outlines a couple of ways for racist language to be removed from property records, including the following:

  • Active homeowners associations need to amend any governing documents with restrictive covenants
  • A city or county can issue a written notice to a homeowners association to erase any restrictive covenants
  • For defunct homeowners associations, such as the ones in Roeland Park, a city or county can adopt a resolution and remove restrictive covenants from language in property records.

This story was originally published by the Johnson County Post.

Copyright 2024 KCUR 89.3

Juliana Garcia