The Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) has escalated its fight against the State of Florida’s foreign buyer ban through a federal fair housing discrimination lawsuit filed Monday. This is the third lawsuit, and first federal suit, against the bill.

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The Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) has escalated its fight against the State of Florida’s foreign buyer ban through a federal fair housing discrimination lawsuit filed Monday. This is the third lawsuit, and first federal suit, against the bill.

The suit, filed with the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., and the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches as co-plaintiffs in the Miami Division of the Southern District of Florida, aims to stop the enforcement of Senate Bill 264, a controversial bill that curbs foreign buyers’ ability to own properties near military installments or critical infrastructure facilities.

AREAA President Jaime Tian

“This is a momentous day for AREAA and our 19,000 members as it is the first time we have filed suit to protect the rights of the AANHPI community,” AREAA President Jamie Tian said in a written statement. “SB 264 must be defeated. Florida legislators and Governor DeSantis have wrongly targeted Chinese and other select groups of immigrants.”

“They have opened the door for greater discrimination while creating increased barriers of homeownership entry for prospective [Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander] homebuyers and sellers,” she added. “My parents came to the U.S. from China as PhD candidates, and they eventually bought a home in Irvine, California.”

“I shudder to think about what my parents would have gone through today if they had settled in Florida. It’s infuriating to realize we now live in a reality where government leaders are putting homeownership out of reach for AANHPI people in Florida.”

Senate Bill 264 became law in May 2023 and targets homebuyers from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. The law prohibits buyers from directly or indirectly owning residential or agricultural property near military installations or critical infrastructure facilities. The law also limits buyers with a valid non-tourist visa or approved asylum purchasing ability to one residential property of two acres or less.

Although SB264’s sponsors said the bill wasn’t influenced by anti-Asian sentiments, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other leaders have championed the bill as a vital tool in stopping the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged hold on the U.S. as they “worm” their way into American society.

The plaintiff’s attorneys argue the bill violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), familial status and disability.

The Act covers most housing, and rarely allows exemptions, except for “owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.”

Noah Baron | Credit: AAJC

“Xenophobia has no place in our country — and let there be no mistake, that’s precisely what SB 264 is,” Asian American Justice Center Assistant Director of Litigation at Advancing Justice Noah Baron said in a prepared statement. “This legislation echoes last century’s ‘alien land laws,’ which also restricted the property rights of Asian Americans on the basis of stereotypes and prejudice.”

“The United States must not continue down this dangerous road; we know where it leads because we have traveled it before: during World War II when unfounded suspicions of Japanese Americans led to the forced imprisonment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans by the U.S. government and going as far back as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act,” he added.

In a phone call with Inman, Tian said although this is the first lawsuit AREAA has filed in its 21-year history, the group has always been politically active.

“Making sure that underserved communities and all AANHPI’s have access to fair housing is something that has always been part of AREAA’s mission,” she said. “I think that over the last 20 years of our history, we feel like we’ve been making a lot of progress. There’s been a number of wins that we felt like we had for our community.”

Those wins include successfully pushing the U.S. Census Bureau to track and include Asian housing data as a standalone category in its quarterly homeownership reports and fighting to have crucial lending documents translated into a wider range of Asian languages. AREAA also led the #StopAsianHate movement in real estate in 2020, as Asian communities experienced a rise in xenophobic attacks due to misinformation about the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tian said the rise in xenophobia has set the stage for SB264 and nearly 30 more copycat bills to be proposed and passed. Those bills, she said, threaten the progress Asian Americans and Asian immigrants have made since the 1850s, the decade that brought the first major wave of Asian immigrants to the U.S.

“Unfortunately, seeing these kinds of laws pop up not only in Florida but in almost 30 states, it’s something that really strikes a chord personally, not only for myself but for all of our members,” she said while recounting the story of her family’s journey from China to the U.S. in the 1990s. “We felt that it was important for us to make a stand now. We don’t want it to continue spreading further and getting worse.”

Tian said AREAA is in this for the long haul, as the legal timeline is currently unclear and depends on how quickly the suit moves through the legal system.

“We’re just getting everything kicked off,” she said. “Our industry allies can help us by spreading awareness. Number two is when our local legislators sometimes hold sessions, go and rally. Speak on behalf of our community. We can stop these bills from moving forward.”

Email Marian McPherson

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