EAST WENATCHEE — When a group of East Wenatchee property owners signed a set of covenants in 1953 that would govern their country club neighborhood, the first item on the list was the exclusion of any non-white homeowner.
“No race or nationality other than those of the White or Caucasian race shall use or occupy any dwelling on the premises, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy of domestic servants of a different race of nationality employed by an owner or tenant,” read the first covenant on the document.
It’s unknown if the covenants’ discriminatory section was ever carried out in the neighborhood, but it was unenforceable by law even when it was signed in the 1950s.
Though unenforceable, many of these outdated, discriminatory documents are still referenced, or written outright, in deeds across the country.
Read more: What is a covenant?
Now this 66-year-old country club document, which was originally signed by 33 property owners and the president of the club itself, has shown up again in the online listing of a house for sale in that neighborhood.
The house is in the 1700 block of Country Club Drive, a street of privately owned homes that cuts through the Wenatchee Golf & Country Club. The real estate agent who's selling the house said the covenant's inclusion in the listing was an oversight.
Jody Campbell of Windermere Real Estate said she “skimmed” the document before attaching on the listing website Flexmls. She said she hadn't noticed the discriminatory section until an interview with The Wenatchee World on Monday.
“I’ll be pulling those covenants, I’ll be pulling them off. There’s no reason for having that kind of crap,” she said. “... Obviously this was an oversight and it’s not something I support at all.”
Campbell then removed the document and said it wouldn’t be included with the house’s deed when it’s sold.
She said she originally found the document on the listings of two houses on the street that had previously been sold. She then copied it onto the listing for this house.
The owner of the house passed away last fall and the property is being sold by his estate, Campbell said.
It was built in 1975, 22 years after the covenants were signed. But the property parcel was included with around 40 others in an original development called Country Club Addition, which was subject to the covenant, according to the document.
The document was signed by the country club’s president and secretary, certified by a notary public and then recorded with the Douglas County Auditor’s Office in 1956, according to auditor’s documents.
But the Supreme Court had already ruled against the practice of using housing covenants to discriminate by race eight years earlier. Then, in 1968, the Fair Housing Act prohibited housing discrimination across the U.S.
But the discriminatory language was still used in neighborhood covenants for years across the nation, and in Washington.
A civil rights project from the University of Washington has uncovered “500 deeds and covenants containing racial restrictions that apply to at least 20,000 properties in scores of neighborhoods in Seattle.”
The language used in the Wenatchee Golf & Country Club covenant exactly matches three separate documents from Seattle’s Bryant, Sandpoint and View Ridge neighborhoods.
It’s also identical to the language a Spokane man found in his home deed, which he’s now trying to remove, The Spokesman Review reported in March.
The Wenatchee World spoke with three other homeowners on Country Club Drive who had heard of the language but didn’t know if it was referenced in the deed documents when they purchased their homes.
But some of the deeds on that street have already been updated.
A World analysis of the current homeowners’ deeds found seven instances where an exemption was written into the deed that specifically disavows the covenant.
One deed from a home in the 1500 block of Country Club Drive omits any “covenants or restrictions, if any, based upon race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, familial status, marital status, disability, handicap, national origin, ancestry, or source of income.”
That deed was put together by North Meridian Title & Escrow, which had three other deeds on that street with similar exemptions.
It’s the company’s standard practice to write in the exemptions whenever they find discriminatory language in property documents, Relationship Manager Mike Leeds said. The exemptions are written to mirror the state and federal laws preventing housing discrimination, he said.
But there’s now a new path that will make that process easier for homeowners across the state.
SHB 2514, which took effect in January, allows any property owner to record a modified document with their county auditor that removes discriminatory language on the deed. The service is available without a filing or recording fee, according to the bill.
In the five months since the law took effect, neither the Douglas or Chelan county auditor’s offices has received any modified documents from property owners, the two auditors said.
And neither Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore or Douglas County Auditor Thad Duvall could recall seeing another discriminatory covenant in their counties.
Homeowners may be unaware the documents are there, Moore said. They’re also nearly impossible for the auditors to find because the documents are usually indexed by property owner name, not document type.
“If I knew about them then I would proactively try to get them changed,” Moore said.