Listing agents in Oregon now have to comply with a first-of-its-kind ban on homebuyer love letters in the state — at least for now — after a judge declined to fast-track a legal challenge to the new law.
The law went into effect Jan. 1 throughout the state, and will stay in effect unless Oregon-based Total Real Estate Group can persuade the judge to put a temporary halt on the law’s enforcement while the lawsuit goes through court.
The brokerage is seeking a preliminary injunction that would pause the law’s rollout, and could still get this injunction in time. But after the court rejected a request to expedite the process, they’ll have to wait until February at earliest, Daniel Ortner, an attorney representing the brokerage in the case, told Inman in a phone call.
“Unfortunately, that’s the case,” Ortner, an attorney at the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “We were hoping to get [the preliminary injunction] sooner. But with the briefing schedule and the court’s time, it’s just going to end up being later than that.”
This leaves agents with a legal obligation to reject love letters for now. Advocates of the new Oregon law have said this should lead to sellers having access to less personal information that could be used to discriminate against homebuyers based on their race, sex, religion or family situation.
This type of discrimination is already banned under the Fair Housing Act, but the law’s advocates argue that love letters provide the seller with more than enough information to discriminate — subconsciously or otherwise.
“We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” Democratic state Rep. Mark Meek, who sponsored the legislation in Oregon, told USA Today in November.
At the heart of the debate on love letters lies a disagreement on the nature of the home transaction itself.
Total Real Estate Group is pursuing the law in part because the brokerage believes sellers should be able to weigh a buyer’s personal situation without crossing the line into unlawful discrimination, Ortner told Inman.
“It’s not like buying a pair of pants from the shelf at Walmart,” Ortner said. “Your house is part of you, part of your identity. … It’s not impersonal. It’s a deeply personal transaction.”
In its lawsuit, the group alleges the new Oregon law violates First Amendment rights by restricting speech by agents and their clients.
If the court agrees this is a First Amendment case, Ortner said his firm is optimistic they can get the preliminary injunction — allowing agents to accept love letters on a temporary basis — while the parties debate the law’s constitutionality in court.
But the earliest that an injunction could be granted is February or March, he said.
So for now, they’ll have to wait. And listing agents in the state will have to set these letters aside, when they receive them.