Bill would allow removal of racist language in real estate deeds

CASPER – A bill giving property owners the ability to remove racially restrictive covenants in real estate deeds overwhelmingly passed Wyoming’s House of Representatives on Monday during the first day of a month long in-person general session. It passed a second read on Tuesday.

Many real estate contracts across the country still have racial covenants, or discriminatory text barring people of color from owning or occupying houses. 

The Supreme Court ruled the covenants unenforceable in 1948. But the exclusionary language remains stuck in deeds across Wyoming. Owners have no means to remove them.

House Bill 91 seeks to change that, giving owners the option to remove restrictive covenants. It also provides owners with immunity from civil liability if they choose to exercise their rights under the legislation.

Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, a real estate agent, said the idea for the bill came to her while closing the sale on a home several years ago.

“I actually had some clients sitting at the table with me and they had to read through the racist covenants that literally said, people of color had to enter from the rear of the home,” Duncan recalled.

The new owners had to sign their initials to acknowledge they were aware of the restrictive covenants, Duncan explained, and “they couldn’t do anything about it.”

“This is in Torrington, Wyoming,” she continued.

House Minority Leader, Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said a University of Wyoming law professor had brought the issue to her attention.

The professor taught students in a landman program at UW’s School of Energy Resources.

“They are training students how to negotiate directly with oil, gas and drilling leases, (but) they were running into these covenants,” Connolly noted. “The students wanted to understand what they could do to help, in terms of getting these restrictive covenants removed. Know that with the passage of this bill, they will use this as an ability to develop a toolkit to help landowners remove covenants that exist, even when we’re not transferring the property. This is a wonderful next step.” 

The practice of adding racist covenants to home deeds stretches back over a century. It was used by white people as a tool to enforce segregation and prohibit Black people and people of color from living in majority white neighborhoods. It also severely restricted non-white people from accumulating wealth or maintaining good credit.

House Bill 91 passed its second reading with a minor amendment Tuesday. The bill still needs to undergo an additional reading in the House before going before the Senate.