Brokerage Sues Oregon Over Ban on Buyer ‘Love Letters’
November 22, 2021
A real estate firm is suing Oregon lawmakers over a new state law that bans real estate professionals from delivering “love letters” written from home buyers to sellers when submitting an offer on a house. The lawsuit alleges that the state ban violates the First Amendment rights of real estate brokers and their clients.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court last Friday by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Total Real Estate Group.
“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” the lawsuit alleges.
Buyer love letters have come under scrutiny over recent months as their popularity has grown. They are most likely to be used by buyers in multiple-offer situations and in transactions where buyers are trying to make their offer stand out from the pack by expressing their desire for a home.
Industry leaders, however, believe these letters could sway sellers to choose or discard a buyer’s bid based on personal information, like about the buyer’s family, marital status, race, religious status, or more, that could violate fair housing laws. The National Association of REALTORS® has warned real estate professionals about the practice and has recommended agents advise their buyers not to write them.
NAR’s recommendations have evolved to advising clients about the risks of love letters, and at a minimum, stressing the importance of avoiding including any information in the letter that could be used to illegally discriminate. Agents should also avoid helping buyer clients to draft or deliver love letters, although NAR has not formally barred their use.
Oregon is the first state to implement an outright ban on the practice. Oregon’s law is set to take effect in January. Real estate professionals in the state then would not be allowed to pass along these letters from buyers that include details about their lives, along with any photographs and videos.
Real estate professionals in favor of the letters say these personal expressions can help their buyers stand out in a competitive situation and demonstrate a strong desire for the home. In the lawsuit, the real estate group also argues that they have not been shown any examples of fair housing complaints or lawsuits that have stemmed from a buyer love letter.
“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” according to the lawsuit.
In August, Mark Meek, a Democratic representative in Oregon who sponsored the legislation, told USA Today that the ban on buyer love letters does not impede free speech. “We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” Meek told USA Today at the time.
“Oregon Slapped With Lawsuit Over ‘Love Letters’ Ban in Hot Real Estate Market,” USA Today (Nov. 21, 2021)
Updated: December 01, 2021