Lawsuit claims Oregon’s real estate ‘love letter’ ban stifles free speech

Free speech advocates have filed a preliminary injunction against Oregon’s new law banning love letters from prospective home buyers.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Free speech advocates have filed a preliminary injunction against Oregon’s new law that bans so-called “love letters” from prospective home buyers.

Total Real Estate Group out of Bend wants a federal judge to block Oregon’s law before it goes into effect in January.

The law would stop real estate agents from passing along personal pitches to sellers. Proponents say these letters can be the only edge a first-time buyer has against deep-pocketed investors that buy up entry-level homes to flip or rent out. The concern is that such letters could violate fair housing laws by revealing a buyer’s race, religion, sexual orientation or marital status.

Related: Oregon becomes the 1st US state to ban homebuyer love letters

The Oregon lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, Democratic Rep. Mark Meek, told USA Today in August that Oregon is not impeding free speech.

“We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” he said.

But Daniel Ortner, a free speech attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said there’s no evidence of a problem.

“If you’re trying to restrict speech you’d better have a compelling reason to do so,” Ortner said. “And you have to have evidence. You have to prove that it’s necessary, that it’s serving some very important function or purpose.”

Ortner said love letters help first-time buyers compete with institutional investors and can show sellers who might be good neighbors.

“Speech about the home is especially important and protected by the Constitution,” he said. “It’s a greatly unconstitutional law and I look forward to getting it struck down.”

Oregon is the first, and so far the only, state to ban real estate love letters.

The movement to stop love letters is part of a reckoning within the real estate sector following decades of housing segregation and red-lining that kept minorities out of certain neighborhoods.

The National Association of Realtors has warned its members that love letters may not be as harmless as they seem.

But they can be effective. Redfin real estate brokerage looked into the best ways to to win a bidding war in 2019. At the top were all-cash offers, followed by love letters, which increased a buyer’s chances almost 60%.