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National Fair Housing Alliance, Asian real estate group claim Florida law violated Fair Housing Act with SB 264

The Asian Real Estate Association of America, along with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., and the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, have filed a lawsuit that contends Florida Housing Law Senate Bill 264 violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

The suit was filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Miami. Defendants in the suit include a variety of Florida state officials including, J. Alex Kelly, the Secretary of Commerce; Patricia Fitzgerald, the chair of the Florida Real Estate Commission; as well as several state attorneys.

The law at the center of the suit came into effect on July 1, 2023, and it “generally restricts the issuance of government contracts or economic development incentives to, or real property ownership by, foreign principals, which are certain individuals and entities associated with foreign countries of concern,” according to the Florida Senate.

Under the law, individuals from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are prohibited from owning or acquiring agricultural land in the state, and from owning or acquiring any interest in real property within 10 miles of any military installation or critical infrastructure in the state. Additionally, “China, Chinese Communist Party or other Chinese political party officials or members, Chinese business organizations, and persons domiciled in China, but who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S., from purchasing or acquiring any interest in real property in the state.”

According to the plaintiff, these restrictions cover 98.5% of all residential land in the state, greatly restricting the ability of people from the six countries to purchase property in the state.

During a press conference on Monday, Zoila Henson of Relman and Colfax, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, noted that due to this her clients believe the law violates the federal Fair Housing Act in four ways.

“We alleged that the law denies access to housing to people from China and these other countries. We allege that they are not able to purchase housing on the same terms and conditions as people from other countries. We alleged that the law contains discriminatory statements and that the law interferes with their housing rights,” Henson said.

Henson noted that the suit also contains two claims under the Florida Constitution, alleging that the laws violates equal protection and individual’s right to property.

Hope Atuell, the CEO of AREAA, said the trade group chose to be part of the suit because they want to protect individuals’ right to own property.

“The right to shelter is a basic right, it is fundamental to our lives here in the United States,” Atuell said. “So, we wanted to make sure that, that continues to be preserved.”

In addition to preventing people from the six countries from purchasing property, the law also requires people from the targeted countries who already own property in the state to register with the Florida Department of Commerce. If found to be in violation of the law, perpetrators will have committed a felony punishable by as much as five years imprisonment. The penalty can be applied to buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals.

“The legislation impedes the pursuit of the American dream for families from China and the other countries who aspire to build a life in this country free from discrimination,” a press release from the plaintiffs’ states.

The defendants, as well as the Florida legislature, did not return a request for comment.

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