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Notarize offers free notarizations to fight racist title language

Racist covenants are often found in title documents

Digital notary startup Notarize is now offering free notarizations in an effort to eliminate racial covenants in title insurance documents.

The issue came to light after real estate brokerage Windermere Real Estate earlier this month publicized the existence of title documents with racist language such as “no person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property” as well as “this property shall not be resold, leased, rented or occupied except to or by persons of the Aryan race.”

Notarize stepped in to offer help.

“Changes to a title require a document to be notarized, and Notarize wanted to help,” said Cristin Culver, a spokesperson for Notarize. “On an ongoing basis, Notarize supports activities to bridge the digital divide of those unserved and underserved, and we’re proud to extend our ongoing digital inclusion efforts to this initiative to help strike restrictive covenants from property deeds, and assist in the fight against real estate-based systemic racism.”

Notarize has created a web page that hosts several documents and allows title docs with such covenants to be notarized for free. The service is currently available in Washington state, with availability coming to Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, California, Oregon and Arizona in the near future.

Inman News first reported on the issue.

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Windermere’s “Restrictive Covenant Modification Document” provides an overview of how to strike the language if it’s still included on title documents.

That such language is still found in title documents is alarming, especially considering that the National Notary Association has said it is illegal to “refuse to perform a lawful and proper notarial act because of the signer’s race, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, politics, lifestyle, advanced age, physical disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or because of disagreement with the statements or purpose of a lawful document.”

In 2018, the state of Washington passed a law making it easier for homeowners to modify these restrictive covenants, striking the discriminatory language from the title of their property. A University of Washington study found more than 500 deeds and covenants containing racial restrictions that apply to at least 20,000 properties around the Seattle area alone.

As noted in the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, racial deed restrictions became commonplace after 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court validated their use. The restrictions were an enforceable contract and an owner who violated them risked forfeiting the property, and many neighborhoods prohibited the sale or rental of property to Asian Americans, Jewish-Americans and Black Americans.

In 1948, the court reversed its decision, declaring that racial restrictions would no longer be enforced. However, the decision did not alter the informal structures of segregation, and real estate brokers, agents, and property owners continued to discriminate based on race.

The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in the sale or rental of housing. However, as Windmere was quick to point out on a blog post, the language of restrictive racial covenants is still written in the chain of title for many homeowners nationwide.

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