Governor posits law as protective, others say it's discriminatory
A bill in Florida that restricts certain foreigners from buying property is in full effect this summer, but facing increasing scrutiny from legal experts.
Signed in May by the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, SB 264 targets a list of “foreign countries of concern” from property ownership: China; Cuba; Iran; North Korea; Syria; and Venezuela. Starting on June 1, buyers have been required to provide an affidavit attesting that the purchaser is not a foreign principal.
The law largely restricts foreign ownership of land meant for agriculture and parcels near military installations, but also bars foreign ownership of property located within 20 miles of airports and other so-called “critical” infrastructure facilities.
Zeroing in on China
Focusing largely on China in signing the bill into law, DeSantis said he implemented the measure largely “…to counteract the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party” in his state. He posited the law as an effort “to protect digital data from Chinese spies, and to root out Chinese influence in Florida’s education system.
DeSantis added the bill would thwart corporate espionage from China and “…to stop CCP [Communist Chinese Party] influence in our education system from grade school to grad school. We are following through on our commitment to crack down on Communist China.”
Florida brokers respond to SB 264
Already beset by volatile interest rates, affordability crises and inflation, brokers must now take precautions to avoid such sales – an added burden yielding mixed sentiment. As a result, reactions to the new law were decidedly mixed.
Florida broker Laura Ray (pictured left), of Liberty Mortgage Lending Group Inc. in Fort Myers, Fla., took a diplomatic approach while avoiding potential political motivations from a law signed by a governor with presidential aspirations. The law is here, she said, and brokers should focus on the best ways to navigate around it.
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“I have more questions regarding the bill to decide if I am in support or not,” Ray told Mortgage Professional America. “The reality is that the bill is passed. The more substantive question is how professionals, such as me, in the finance and real estate industries will navigate the landscape of this bill.”
Yet she strongly intimated the law was at odds with her industry’s code of ethics: “We are bound by association, state, and federal laws that prohibit how our actions affect protected classes,” she said. “As new as this is, we have yet to see how our industries are going to respond to this in terms of the ethical and legal manner in which we handle clients and potential clients involved, and whether or not it actually does affect protected classes. Even though it looks as though it could be challenged formally at some point, it is currently passed. This means that everyone involved in this industry will have to double down to understand the interaction of the bill within the industry.”
Toshia Drummond (pictured right), of Approved Mortgage Solutions in Plantation, Fla., was a bit more strident in her response, saying the Florida law “…appears to unfairly single out individuals of Chinese and other nationalities, which goes against the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment,” she told MPA. “Discriminating against people based on their national origin is considered a form of discrimination and is a protected class under civil rights law.”
Legal experts seem to agree with that stance, with some worrying about the Florida law’s potential in setting a discriminatory precedent. Civil liberty and real estate experts also point to potential violations of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act protecting homebuyers from being discriminated against based on race or national origin.
Not all Chinese people are members of the Chinese Communist Party
In opposing the bill before being enacted into law, the Florida Asian American Justice Alliance zeroed in on a sentiment voiced by DeSantis at a press conference leading up to his signing: “If you look at the Chinese Communist Party, they’ve been very active throughout the Western Hemisphere in gobbling up land,” DeSantis was quoted as saying. In essence, FAAJA officials said, the law “equates all Chinese citizens to agents of the CCP.”
Drummond agreed, suggesting the law was a slippery slope: “This is a cause for concern for other minority groups, as this may set a dangerous precedent for future legislation that targets specific racial or ethnic groups,” Drummond said. “Such policies could lead to unconstitutional discrimination that negatively affects the rights of all minority groups in America.”
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