Liberty Title Provides Plant Access to Help Find Racial Covenants in Michigan Neighborhoods

August 30, 2022

Michigan-based Liberty Title is doing its part to help address and remedy the existence of discriminatory covenants in land records.

The title company provided access to its title plant—with redacted documents—to help Justice InDeed and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) at the University of Michigan eliminate or reform racially restrictive covenants. 

Ryann Burhop, assistant production manager for Liberty Title, has worked with Justice InDeed and the CRLI for more than three years. She held many in-person and online sessions providing a mini abstracting 101 course to teach the university students how to search records in the plant and how to use the Washtenaw County Register of Deeds website. 

Through the effort, the Justice InDeed and CRLI has mapped over 120 neighborhoods in Washtenaw County that contain discriminatory covenants. While federal law has properly made these discriminatory covenants illegal and unenforceable since 1968, their existence in property deeds and other official mortgage documents has caused significant pain and harm to countless Americans.

Justice InDeed and CRLI led an effort with homeowners in the Hannah subdivision west of Ann Arbor to repeal the racist covenants that have been on file on their properties for over 70 years. Justice InDeed and CRLI worked with the 44-home subdivision to repeal and replace its covenants, collecting signatures from over 85% of homeowners. Support from over 50% was needed.

Disavowing the discriminatory language, the new covenant documents state the subdivision celebrates diversity and there can be no restrictions based on race, religion, national origin and a long list of other classifications.

The effort was made possible due to access to Liberty Title’s plant and Burhop’s efforts to educate the students.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Mapping Housing Discrimination Act to research and examine discriminatory covenants in land records to help better understand current disparities in wealth and homeownership.

“Historic land records often exist in paper form, making the search for discriminatory covenants onerous,” said Diane Tomb, chief executive officer of ALTA. “Providing funding to research and document discriminatory covenants addresses this challenge and provides a critical first step toward fully understanding the negative impacts of these abhorrent covenants.”

ALTA is strongly opposed to any form of housing discrimination and is committed to proactively working toward solutions that protect the property rights of all homebuyers. ALTA’s Discriminatory Covenants Workgroup developed a publication that details the various approaches to addressing discriminatory covenants in the public land records. The document also highlights the pros and cons of each method.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].