Newly passed legislation sponsored by state Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone/Oregon City, is being credited with igniting a national debate among real estate agents about preventing Fair Housing Act violations during real-estate sales.Â Â
Meek's bill sought to ban "love letters" from prospective buyers to home sellers, especially when those letters contain photographs of potential buyers that would reveal the buyers' race, along with statements that could sway sellers to choose a particular buyer based on religion and sexual orientation.
Typical statements in such letters might say something like, "My wife and I would love to buy your house because it's walking distance for our kids to school and the church we attend with their grandparents." Meek's own experience as a Realtor helped shape the bill.
"We are dealing with implicit biases that cause sellers to gravitate to one type of buyer, which can lead to keeping one type of person generally owning homes in neighborhoods," Meek said. "I've sat down with sellers in their living rooms and they've told me, 'I couldn't sell to them because my neighbors would hate me forever.' Not only is that discrimination, but also that seller is about to have different neighbors."
Meek's main hope is that eliminating that practice will make homeownership more achievable for groups that have traditionally not had as much access to owning property.
According to late 2019 official statistics, 65% of white people in Oregon owned homes, compared with Black/African Americans at 32.2% and 40.8% for Hispanic/Latino groups.
"Hopefully it (my legislation) will open up opportunities for our BIPOC communities to get more access to homeownership," Meek said. "I've heard from some Realtors saying, 'Hey, you're taking away one of our tools,' but my response is that we're not allowed to say in a real-estate listing, 'This house is for sale right next to a church,' or 'Buy this property walking distance from a certain political party's office,' so potential buyers shouldn't be able to so easily use these same types of biases to influence sellers."
House Bill 2550, which Gov. Kate Brown signed in June, becomes effective starting in 2022. The legislation says, "In order to help a seller avoid selecting a buyer based on buyer's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status as prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, a seller's agent shall reject any communication other than customary documents in a real estate transaction, including photographs, provided by a buyer."
Previously, Meek and other Realtors felt they had a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to share "love letters," even though such letters might persuade a seller to choose a buyer at a lower price.
"A seller's agent is no longer required to forward letters from potential buyers, who often included photos of their families, in an attempt to sway the seller's decisions," he said.
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