Federal Judge Tosses Oregon Ban on Real Estate ‘Love Letters’

By: - May 13, 2022 12:00 am

With real estate bidding wars heating up, buyers often try to entice sellers with a real estate “love letter,” outlining the reasons the homeowner should sell to them. A federal judge threw out on First Amendment grounds an Oregon law that had banned the letters. Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press

An Oregon judge has thrown out a state law that banned real estate “love letters” written by prospective homebuyers to sellers in an attempt to close a deal on a home.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernández issued a consent decree that invalidated the law on free speech grounds.

In the decree, he said the law that called on real estate agents to reject efforts to communicate a love letter to the sellers “violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” and said the law would not be enforced.

Last year, Oregon became the first state to pass a law against the letters, postulating that information contained in them might be used to unlawfully discriminate against certain buyers and therefore violate the Fair Housing Act. No other state followed suit, but several discourage the practice. And real estate trade groups in states such as California and Washington also have acknowledged the issue.

“The entry of the consent decree sends a clear message that states cannot infringe upon home buyers’ and sellers’ right to communicate freely,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Ortner, who represented Total Real Estate Group, a Bend, Oregon, firm in the case.

“Other states considering similar unlawful policies should stop attempts to ban love letters and instead protect freedom of speech and economic opportunity,” Ortner wrote in a statement.

The author of the law, Oregon state Rep. Mark Meek, a Democrat and a real estate broker, told Stateline last year that agents in Oregon approached him about concerns that the letters—which often reveal family status, children, pets, religion and possibly hint at race—might be a problem.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers education and consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.