So-called love letters from buyers to sellers potentially raise fair housing concerns, but a brokerage says it violates First Amendment free speech rights.
NEW YORK – A real estate firm is suing Oregon lawmakers over a new state law that bans real estate professionals from delivering “love letters” written from homebuyers to sellers when submitting an offer on a house. The lawsuit alleges that the state ban violates the First Amendment rights of real estate brokers and their clients.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court last Friday by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Total Real Estate Group.
“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” the lawsuit alleges.
Buyer love letters have come under scrutiny over recent months as their popularity has grown. They are most likely to be used by buyers in multiple-offer situations and in transactions where buyers are trying to make their offer stand out from the pack by expressing their desire for a home.
Industry leaders, however, believe love letters could sway sellers to choose or discard a buyer’s bid based on personal information that could violate fair housing laws, like insight into the buyer’s family, marital status, race, religious status or more. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has warned real estate professionals about the practice and recommended that agents advise buyers not to write them. At a minimum, NAR suggests, agents should stress the importance of avoiding information in the letter that could be used to illegally discriminate. Agents should also avoid helping buyers draft or deliver love letters, although NAR hasn’t formally barred their use.
Oregon is the only state to implement an outright ban on the practice. Under the law that goes into effect in January, real estate professionals wouldn’t be allowed to pass love letters from buyers that include details about their lives, or any photographs and videos.
Real estate professionals who favor the letters say the personal expressions can help their buyers stand out in a competitive situation and demonstrate a strong desire for the home. In the lawsuit, the real estate group also argues that they haven’t been shown any examples of fair housing complaints or lawsuits that stemming from the practice.
“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” according to the lawsuit.
In August, Mark Meek, a Democratic representative in Oregon who sponsored the legislation, told USA Today that the ban on buyer love letters does not impede free speech. “We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” Meek told USA Today at the time.
Source: “Oregon Slapped With Lawsuit Over ‘Love Letters’ Ban in Hot Real Estate Market,” USA Today (Nov. 21, 2021)
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