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New Oklahoma law makes discriminatory real estate covenants 'null and void'

Owning or leasing an older property can reveal a disturbing history. A new law in Oklahoma targets discriminatory language in real estate covenants.

House Bill 2288, by Republicans Rep. John Pfeiffer and Sen. Brent Howard, was signed by the governor in May. It would make language from real estate contracts that are discriminatory “null and void.” A person could also remove the covenant language with a simple request to a county clerk.

These kinds of legal agreements were used throughout the early 20th century in the United States, mostly to keep Black people from moving into certain neighborhoods. They often targeted other minority groups, too.

The racist covenants haven’t been enforced for decades. But they’re often still on the books. The Oklahoman reports many can be found across the state, pointing to examples in Oklahoma City and Stillwater.

That’s why Oklahoma lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to strip them from legal documents without barriers or delay. Their action comes more than 75 years after two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Hansberry v. Lee which helped encourage more legal challenges against racial covenants, and Shelley v. Kraemer, which ruled states could not enforce racial covenants.

The new law goes into effect in November.

Kateleigh Mills joined KOSU in March 2018, following her undergraduate degree completion from the University of Central Oklahoma in December 2017.