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Finding and Revoking Discriminatory Property Covenant Restrictions

In the first half of the last century, deeds of property were drawn up in many places across the United States that contained restrictive racial covenants.  Their purpose was to bar African Americans from ever owning the property so restricted.  These have been of no legal effect since 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them unenforceable in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer.

A recent publication exploring this phenomenon in Monroe County stated that “Covenants were attached to homes in Rochester and each of the towns surrounding the city, from Brighton to Pittsford.”  Its footnote supporting this statement included no examples in Pittsford ( at page 17).  Elsewhere it includes a map of the Rochester area depicting sites of such restrictions, but without labeling them as to place or providing citations to support or identify the map’s references.

Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that the language of such covenants, though void for 72 years, could remain in old deeds in the chain of title of properties in Pittsford.  Many homeowners who discover these relics in their chain of title understandably want them removed.

To determine if there is a discriminatory covenant that once applied to your property:
Check your home property records to find your Abstract of Title.  This is a sizeable legal document that includes the complete history of ownership and any restrictions affecting your property.  The Abstract of Title is where you would find any restrictive covenants for your property. It sometimes begins with a copy of your property deed.

If you don’t have your Abstract of Title, the attorney who conducted your home purchase closing may have a copy or may inform you how to obtain one.  The bank holding your mortgage may also have this information. An Abstract of Title is often stored by the local title company that prepared it.

To remove such a covenant from the record of title, you can revoke it pursuant to the legal process outlined in the covenant itself, if one is specified.  If no specific process is stated, you’ll need to consult legal counsel to determine how the restriction can be amended.  You’ll then need to draft an amendment and file it with the Monroe County Clerk's Office.

Just as Town governments had no role in the drafting, provisions, or recording of deeds to private homes, they do not have any role or authority in amending any such deeds, nor do they ordinarily have need to see them or retain copies of them.  So making a change is up to each homeowner.  The sources of information about any particular property are the Abstract of Title, the title company, or the Monroe County Clerk’s Office.

A neighborhood in Brighton recently got together to remove historic discriminatory covenants that once burdened their properties. They’ve placed online what they learned and how they did it.  You’ll find it here:

Ensuring that Pittsford remains a welcoming place for all is a commitment long-held by our Town government and cherished by our community members.

Posted December 23, 2020