Oregon’s real estate ‘love letter’ ban blocked by federal judge

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a new Oregon law that aims to cut down discrimination in real estate by banning so-called “love letters.”
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 8:17 AM PST
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(KPTV) - A federal judge has temporarily blocked a new Oregon law that aims to cut down discrimination in real estate by banning so-called “love letters.”

The law, HB 2550, went into effect in January. Before that, Oregonians who had their eye on a particular home could send a love letter of sorts to its owner. A letter could include things like a note and personal pictures to influence the sellers decision.

Lisa Bradburn with Premiere Property Group LLC calls the nature of those letters “problematic,” as they can lead a seller to make a decision based off of their own prejudice. Bradburn told FOX 12 she’s even received less of those letters from interested buyers within the past year.

Meanwhile, some agents believe the home-buying process shouldn’t be completely transactional.

“Even though it is financially motivated, there is emotion attached to it,” said Gabrielle Enfield.

Enfield with Living Room Realty in Portland said she has found much success from buyers being able to create emotional connections between themselves and sellers through letters. But she understands those letters can leave the door open for discrimination from sellers. A fear she heard first hand from one of her clients.

“They choose not to include a photo because they were non-binary, and they were afraid that seller wouldn’t sell them the house because of how they looked,” Enfield said.

Enfield believes there is a way around it.

“Exclude photos, exclude references to children or schools or raising families, exclude reference to wealth status or neighborhood, those types of keywords that I think people associate with declassification of status,” she said.

Some Oregon lawmakers claimed that was a violation of federal fair housing laws, so they created a law at the state level that directs a seller’s agent to reject that kind of communication in order to avoid buys being selected based on race, sex, or religion.

Last summer, before Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law, FOX 12 spoke with the chief sponsor of the bill, Representative Mark Meek, (D) Clackamas County. Meek is a real estate agent himself and said implicit bias is the issue.

“The only way that I saw, and a way that we can practically and very simply eliminate that practice, is just to not allow those letters,” Meek told FOX 12. “We’re not impinging on free speech, a buyer can still write the letter, but the seller’s agent is no longer required to pass that information along.”

The group - Pacific Legal Foundation - sued over the law, claiming it violates first amendment rights.

Last week, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction of the state’s ban. District Judge Marco A. Hernández ruled the law interferes with free speech and may take things a step too far.

With this preliminary injunction, HB 2550 can’t be enforced until Hernández makes a final decision.