A law banning homebuyers from submitting supplemental letters with their offers violates sellers’ and buyers’ free speech, court rules
A federal judge has ruled that Oregon’s ban on homebuyer “love letters” violates the freedom of speech rights of both prospective homebuyers and real estate brokers.
In 2021, Oregon became the first state in the union to ban the controversial practice of homebuyers sending sellers letters pleasing with them to accept their offer.
But just as set to take effect, the ban was challenged in court by Portland-based Total Real Estate Group. In March of this year, a federal judge issued a preliminary ruling preventing the state from enforcing the ban.
That ban is now permanent, per a consent decree issued Wednesday and signed by Total Real Estate Group, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Oregon real estate commissioner Steve Strode. Per the decree, all parties agree the ban violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The state has also agreed to pay to pay Total Real Estate Group $62,000 in attorney fees and court costs.
Rep. Mark Meek (D-Clackamas), who sponsored the legislation in question, told a state Senate committee last May that the practice may seem harmless, but too often results in sellers “making decisions based on the perception of who will ‘fit in’ to their neighborhood better.”
House Bill 2550 banned the use of love letters to “help a seller avoid selecting a buyer based on the buyer’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status as prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.”
“The entry of the consent decree sends a clear message that states cannot infringe upon home buyers’ and sellers’ right to communicate freely,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Ortner, who represented Total Real Estate Group, said in a press release.
“The State of Oregon clearly recognized that it could not justify its ban on sharing information that helps sellers find the best buyer for their home. Other states considering similar unlawful policies should stop attempts to ban love letters and instead protect freedom of speech and economic opportunity,” Ortner added.
Meek, who is now running for state Senate, told the Oregon Capital Chronicle he was disappointed by outcome, but will continue trying to end the discriminatory threat posed by love letters.
In the March injunction, Chief U.S. District Judge Marco Hernández wrote that the state’s goal with the legislation was “laudable” given Oregon’s “long and abhorrent history of racial discrimination in property ownership and housing.”
That history dates to the 1857 state Constitution, which prohibited Black Americans and immigrants of Chinese descent from owning property in Oregon and continuing with restrictive covenants and urban renewal programs that have displaced people of color. The ruling also notes that love letters often include information about the prospective homebuyers’ race and other demographic status, but that the state failed to demonstrate that the law would achieve its intended purpose.
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