Restrictive Covenant Modification
In 2018, Washington State amended its law against discrimination to provide
property owners a new way to strike racially restrictive covenants from
documents affecting the title of their properties. If your property had a
racially restrictive covenant recorded in the past, you can now record a
modification document with the county auditor where your property is
What are racially restrictive covenants?
In the first half of the twentieth century, restrictive covenants were
recorded on some properties in Washington which included racially
restrictive provisions. These racially restrictive covenants sometimes
singled out specific races that were excluded from owning or occupying the
property. Other versions would limit ownership or use to one particular
race. Sometimes the restrictive covenants limited ownership or use by
members of certain religions.
Are racially restrictive covenants valid and enforceable?
No. In 1948 the United States Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive
covenants could not be enforced. In 1968 the federal Fair Housing Act
banned covenants discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or
national origin. A Washington state law passed in 1969 provides that such
covenants are void, meaning that they have no legal effect. That law,
Section 49.60.224 of the Revised Code of Washington
, says that it is an unfair practice to attempt to honor a racially
restrictive covenant in the chain of title. The chain of title includes all
the recorded documents that affect title to a property, back to the
original conveyance by the United States.
How can I find out if the land title records for my property contain a
racially restrictive covenant?
Two sources can help you determine if a racially restrictive covenant is
related to your property. The first source is the land title records
maintained by county auditors. These records are public so you can search
them for free. This can be a complex process and fees are charged for
The second source is your owner's title insurance policy, which is
typically issued at the same time the property is purchased. A title
insurance policy identifies documents appearing in the public records that
affect title to the property. Your policy may reference deeds recorded
decades ago, or covenant documents affecting an entire subdivision. You may
be able to request copies from the title company that issued your title
policy, although a fee may be charged. You may also use the recording
information in your title policy to get copies from the county auditor.
What will filing a modification document do?
The modification document will refer to the original recorded document that
contained the racially restrictive covenant and contain the following
statement required by law:
The referenced original written instrument contains discriminatory
provisions that are void and unenforceable under
and federal law. This document strikes from the referenced original
instrument all provisions that are void and unenforceable under law.
Recording a modification document will provide notice in the land title
records that the racially restrictive covenant is void and unenforceable.
It will not delete the historic record. The modification document legally
strikes, but does not physically erase, the void and illegal discriminatory
provisions from the original document.
Do I need to file a modification document to protect my rights in my
No. Racially restrictive covenants have been void in Washington since 1969.
The attempt by any person to enforce such a covenant against your property
would be a violation of state and federal law. Your rights are protected by
existing law and do not require that you record a modification document.
HOW TO PREPARE AND RECORD A RESTRICTIVE COVENANT MODIFICATION DOCUMENT:
If you have verified that a document recorded with
the county auditor in the chain of title to your
property contains a racially restrictive covenant
and you have decided to record a modification
document, here are the steps to follow.
Obtain the following necessary information about
your property from your deed or your title
Recording number (often referred to as the
"auditor's file number") of the original
document containing the racially restrictive
covenant that is void under
. It is not necessary to obtain the recording
number for any later document repeating the
terms of the original document or referencing
its recording number.
Recording date of the original document
containing the racially restrictive covenant.
The names of all current owners of the property
(ex: you and your co-owners, if any).
Legal description (both full and abbreviated)
of your property, AND
Tax parcel number for your property.
Fill in the Restrictive Covenant Modification
Document with the information above but do not sign
Take the document and government-issued
identification to a licensed notary public and sign
in the presence of the notary. There may be a
charge to have the document notarized.
Take the document to
your county auditor
for recording. You can bring the document in person
or mail it to the county auditor in the county in
which the property is located. There is no charge
to record the document.