Discriminating deeds? Lawmakers hope to rewrite offensive language

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Alfonso Guise bought his home on South Champion Avenue more than 40 years ago and remembers seeing language in the deed saying the house could not be sold or leased to a negro or mulatto.

Guise says he didn’t think much of it at the time.

“We had already purchased the house, so I didn’t think anyone would come back and say we couldn’t live here because of this in the deed,” Guise said.

But Guise says the language is offensive and he would like to see it taken out of his deed.

Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor and State Rep. Hearcel Craig hope to make that happen. They have teamed up to promote a state legislative proposal to give property owners the freedom and county recorders the authority to redact the discriminatory language from their online deeds. O’Connor says there are at least 5,000 deeds on file that could contain discriminatory language.

“Ohio never had formal segregation, but these restrictive covenants were in place all over the place,” O’Connor said.

He said the restrictive covenants are not limited to excluding blacks: “There’s anti-Semitic language. There are some very rare cases of anti-Catholic language contained in these deeds. There was intent here in these neighborhoods, in their eyes, to protect the homes from being purchased or protect their neighborhood from being purchased by these individuals.”

The restrictions are unenforceable and illegal since a 1948 Supreme Court ruling and the enactment of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. But Ohio does not give county recorders the authority to edit documents once they’ve been recorded, regardless of the content.

The legislation comes at a time of increased public discourse about how to remember parts of our nation’s history that have been overshadowed by discrimination, hate and racism.

“I believe there is a way to balance remembering the darkest moments in our country without allowing relics of discrimination and injustice to eclipse the progress we have made by working together,” Craig said. “This language undermines our strides, advancement and progress as a community and nation. Redacting it is a small, but simple step we can take to further thoughtful dialogue within our communities while showing would-be residents and businesses that we are not stuck in shadows of our past.”

The proposed legislation would specifically allow property owners, attorneys, title companies and other agents authorized to do business in Ohio to notify their recorder’s office of a potential restrictive covenant, as well as give the recorder permission to redact a restrictive covenant from an online version of the property document. The original document will still be held for historical purposes.

“This is not an attempt to mask or hide from our past mistakes,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think anyone is going to forget anytime soon the horrors of the past and these restrictive covenants that were in place but we can do our part to remove it from the public sphere and that’s what we want to do,” O’Connor said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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