Thousands of Santa Clara County property records include restrictions on the use, lease or purchase of property by particular groups of people, often minorities. Many of these restrictions date back to the 19th century.
Using a new state law, the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office this week announced a plan to remove discriminatory language from an estimated 24 million county property records, some dating to 1850.
The target, according to the county, will be restrictive covenants – contractual agreements, like those found in Homeowners’ Association (HOA) contracts, that were used to prohibit the purchase or lease of property by a particular group of people.
“Restrictive covenants continue to be an insidious form of discrimination,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian. “When I was a child, my family bought a home here in Santa Clara County. It was then that I learned from my father, at a young age, that not everyone had the same opportunity to buy property due to racial covenants.”
“While the courts have since stated that these documents are unenforceable, I’m pleased the State Legislature took this action and that the county is moving to redact offensive language in any of these documents.”
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act bans discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability, veteran or military status, or genetic information. Assembly Bill 1466, which was signed in July 2022, requires counties in California to remove discriminatory language on any deed or other recorded instrument.
“Even before the Legislature passed this law, the county had already started to go through covenants to determine the scope of the problem,” said County Clerk-Recorder Regina Alcomendras. “We have been proactively combing through documents that go back to 1848. The process to go through the millions of documents will be labor intensive and time consuming but our office is poised for the challenge.”
The County Clerk-Recorder’s Office has already met its first set of benchmarks laid out by the Legislature in the first year. It is hiring two additional dedicated staff members and is looking to contract with a vendor to expedite the process and correct the documents in a shorter amount of time. Volunteers and student interns are also helping with the effort.
Anyone who has a property that may be the subject of an unlawful restrictive covenant can submit a Restrictive Covenant Modification document cover page to correct the record.
If people believe a property deed is subject to unlawful language, they may fill out a Restrictive Covenant Modification Document request form.
The County’s implementation plan can be found here.