By Bob Conrad and Jeri Chadwell
Racist language in property records may be removed thanks to a 2019 bill that passed in the Nevada Legislature. But to do so in Washoe County, it’s going to cost $43 per record.
That’s because Washoe County fees are set in law.
“You can file this paperwork with the recorder if you have racist covenant language on your property,” said Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill. “I received a complaint about that fee, which I didn’t know about… I have been wanting to do this recording myself, for my home, because I have a 1948 home and just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.”
To keep people from having to pay that fee, Hill said she is using her commissioner funds to cover the costs for homeowners wanting to update their property records.
Racist language dates to state’s earliest days
Older properties throughout the county have racist language contained within their declarations of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
The language differs by neighborhood and by the age of homes, but it usually denotes a prohibition on the sale or occupancy of homes by anyone other than those of the Caucasian race.
These kinds of discriminatory housing policies were made null and void by passage of the Civil Rights Act, and specifically by the Federal Fair Housing Act that was adopted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act in 1968.
Discriminatory CC&Rs should have been unenforceable as of 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer that, while private parties could abide by the terms of such restrictive covenants, they could not seek judicial enforcement of them because it would require state action that would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Discriminatory CC&Rs have existed in Nevada since the state’s inception. But in 1933, when faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program designed to increase America’s housing stock—and to segregate it.
The National Housing Act of 1934, a New Deal program, created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as well as the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation. The FHA was designed to provide housing assistance to lower-middle-class families without the money for a large down payment, but only white ones.
2019 law gives homeowners new option
Senate Bill 117 was sponsored by state Senators Julia Ratti and Dallas Harris. It deals directly with discriminatory CC&Rs and was spurred by homeowners’ requests to their elected officials.
The bill resulted in the implementation of a law that allows homeowners to file a single document with their county recorder called a Declaration of Removal of Discriminatory Restriction. The document doesn’t physically strike anything from the historical records.
“What that does is it gives homeowners who own property with discriminatory language within their [CC&Rs] and other miscellaneous property documents that have that discriminatory language predating the Fair Housing Act,” said Kalie Work, county recorder. “It basically references that language and allows them to disavow that language from their property records.”
Work said the racist and discriminatory language in CC&Rs is common in the county.
“That’s not unique to Washoe County, either,” Work added. “That’s throughout the state and in the nation, of course.”
Work said the fee is a longstanding fee that she does not control. In the meantime, Hill is encouraging people to update their property records.
“We want to get the word out that this is something people can do,” Hill added. “It’s definitely something that’s needed.”
The form to remove the language is available online: https://washoecounty.gov/recorder/