Modify or Remove Restrictive Covenants
In the first half of the 20th Century, covenants were recorded on some properties in Washington which included restrictions on who could legally purchase or occupy the property. These provisions sometimes singled out people from specific races, national origins, or ethnic backgrounds, and limited ownership or use to one particular race or members of certain religions.
Supreme Court rulings and state and federal law make these restrictions illegal to enforce.
Property owners have three choices if their property has an unlawful, restrictive covenant associated with it. As of Jan. 1, 2022, real estate transactions will require disclosure of restrictive covenants.
- File a Restrictive Covenant Modification. Filing this document through Snohomish County Recording costs nothing. It effectively removes reference to the offending document from your chain of title.
- Have the covenant removed. Washington law allows for the illegal language to be struck by bringing an action in Superior Court. Filing through Superior Court costs $20. Property owners will then need to provide the new records to Snohomish County Recording for filing at no charge.
- Do nothing to modify or remove the covenant.
In 2018, Washington State provided a way for property owners to address discriminatory, restrictive covenants found in documents affecting the title of their properties. If your property has a restrictive covenant recorded in the past, you can record a modification document with the county where your property is located.
If you have verified that a recorded document in the chain of title to your property contains a racially restrictive covenant and you want to record a modification document, here are the steps to follow.
1. Gather necessary information
Obtain the following information about your property from your deed or your title insurance policy:
- Recording number of the original document containing the racially restrictive covenant that is void under state law. 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 (you and your co-owners, if any).
- Legal description (both full and abbreviated) of your property.
- Tax parcel number for your property.
2. Complete the form
Fill out the Restrictive Covenant Modification with the information above, but do not sign it yet.
3. Sign and notarize form
Take the document and your government-issued photo identification (for example, a driver's license or passport) to a licensed notary public and sign in the presence of the notary. There may be a charge to have the document notarized.
4. Submit to Snohomish County Recording
There is no charge to record the document.
Starting on January 1, 2022, property owners who have an unlawful, discriminatory restrictive covenant associated with their property will be able to remove the covenant from their property deed.
The new option comes as a result of House Bill 1335 (HB 1335), passed by the Washington State Legislature during the 2021 Legislative session. The legislation provides a judicial remedy to have a restricted covenant struck from the chain of title.
If a property owner wants the covenant removed, they go to Superior Court (paying the nominal court fee) in the county in which the property is located. Superior Court may issue a declaratory judgment action - entering an order striking the void provisions from the public records and eliminating the void provisions from the title. The property owner bringing the action may obtain and deliver a certified copy of the order to the County Recording Office, who will record the document for no fee.
Snohomish County Recording will maintain the restrictive covenants for historical purposes, but the new process allows property owners to separate historic records from their future property transactions.
Text adapted from King County and Spokane County Auditors.
- What are restrictive covenants?
In the first half of the 20th Century, covenants were recorded on some properties in Washington which included restrictions on who could legally purchase or occupy the property. These provisions sometimes singled out people from specific races, national origins, or ethnic backgrounds. Other versions limited ownership or use to one particular race. Sometimes the restrictive covenants limited ownership or use by members of certain religions.
- Are restrictive covenants valid and enforceable?
No. In 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that 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. In 1969 the Washington Law Against Discrimination included all protected classes and makes such covenants void (illegal). That law says that it is an unfair practice to attempt to honor a 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 restrictive covenants?
HB 1335, passed by the state Legislature in 2021, funds research for the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University to identify restrictive covenants on private property and inform property owners. See the UW’s interactive map showing some of the subdivisions known to have been unlawfully restricted through deed provisions or restrictive covenants. This map is not exhaustive and currently contains King County properties only. The researchers are currently working on mapping restrictive covenants in Snohomish County.
Or you can do your own research. One option is to search the land title records maintained by Snohomish County Recording. These records are public, so you can search them for free. This can be a complex process and may require additional assistance from Snohomish County Recording. Research and copy fees may apply.
You can also review 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 Recording.
- Do property owners have to get the covenant modified or removed if they are notified that they have one?
No, but the law is specific about disclosure during property transactions.
- What will removing a restrictive covenant do?
Through legal action and filing new paperwork with Snohomish County Recording, removing a restrictive covenant strikes the void provisions from the public records and eliminates the void provisions from the title. Snohomish County Recording will maintain the restrictive covenants for historical purposes, but the new process allows property owners to separate historic records from their future property transactions.
- Do I need to remove a restrictive covenant to protect my rights in my property?
No. 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 remove the restrictive covenant.
- How do I remove a restrictive covenant?
If the owner wants the covenant removed, they go to Superior Court (paying the nominal court fee) in the county in which the property is located. Superior Court may issue a declaratory judgment action - entering an order striking the void provisions from the public records and eliminating the void provisions from the title. The property owner bringing the action may obtain and deliver a certified copy of the order to the County Recording Office, who will record the document for no fee.