Oregon last year became the first state to pass a law preventing real estate agents from forwarding personal pitches to sellers that can include details about people’s lives along with photographs and videos and could violate state and federal fair housing rules.
The law does not prevent homebuyers from communicating directly with sellers.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in November by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a real estate firm alleged the state’s ban on these communications violates the First Amendment rights of real estate brokers and their clients.
“Today’s ruling preserves the opportunity of homebuyers to speak freely to sellers and make the case why their purchase offers should win out,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Ortner said in a statement. “Love letters communicate information that helps sellers select the best offer. The state cannot ban important speech because someone might misuse it.”
The Oregon Real Estate Agency told USA TODAY it would not enforce the law until the court rules on its constitutionality.
In hot markets where multiple bidders jockey for the same house, buyers will do just about anything to get their offer noticed and that includes writing “love letters” in hopes of making a personal connection with a seller.
Increasingly, the real industry has grown uneasy that “love letters” frequently accompanied by photographs or videos often reveal the buyer’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status. Many real estate agents refuse to accept or deliver them. The law took effect in January.
Real estate agent Cheri Smith told the court that sending these letters allows her clients to compete with higher offers, including those from real estate investors and she worried the law would “lead to many angry and dissatisfied clients.”
Lisa Bates, an associate professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies at Portland State University, told the court sellers may “consciously or unconsciously” choose buyers who are similar to themselves, reinforcing racial gaps in homeownership and neighborhood segregation.
In issuing a preliminary injunction, federal judge Marco A. Hernandez acknowledged Oregon’s “long and abhorrent history of racial discrimination in property ownership and housing.”
The backlash against love letters is part of an industrywide reckoning with decades of housing discrimination that kept Black Americans from homeownership. Efforts to reform racist practices and increase Black homeownership intensified after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Last year, the National Association of Realtors warned members that love letters were not as harmless as they seemed.