Sonoma County is seeking proposals to help the county recorder identify, report and redact illegal racist restrictions originally printed in over 24 million previously recorded real estate documents.

The county announced Tuesday it is seeking to formally void racially restrictive covenants in paperwork that prevented people of color from purchasing, renting or using property.

Once a common restriction before the 1960s, these restrictions played a key role in California’s history of redlining, which barred people of color from living in white neighborhoods. The practice was declared unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 and has been unlawful since the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, though the segregationist language still exists in records themselves.

Property owners may see this document when they sign a disclosure during the escrow process, and are typically requested to ignore any restrictive covenants that defy current law.

Text from a 1938 property deed includes language restricting use or ownership to whites only. Such restrictive covenants were commonplace in California real estate documents of the mid-20th century and can still be found on the books today despite state laws explicitly forbidding their enforcement. (San Leandro Public Library)

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act currently deems all restrictions related to age, race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other identities as illegal and void.

California’s Assembly Bill 1466, passed in 2021, created a state-mandated program for people and local recorders to submit and redact documents with illegal restrictive language in a new recording.

The Sonoma County Recorder’s Office is required by California law to identify and redact illegal restrictions, track a record of properties identified, index modified documents, preserve the original documents and provide status reports to the County Recorders Association of California.

Upon a preliminary manual search, the county recorder identified illegal restrictive language included in recorded documents.

The neighboring county of Marin received a state award for its redaction program in January after it identified 4,500 homes that contained paperwork with racial covenants.