The Florida state flag and the scales of justice.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Ruling ‘an important step’ toward ending ban on Chinese buyers 

Appeals court sides with two of the four people suing the state of Florida along with an Orlando-based brokerage, with a final ruling expected soon.

February 6, 2024
4 minutes

Key points:

  • The court addressed a Florida law that restricts the purchase or ownership of real estate by non-permanent U.S. residents from a handful of countries.
  • The language of the law took specific aim at Chinese citizens, with one appellate judge calling it a “blatant” violation of the 14th Amendment.
  • AREAA President Jamie Tian said the recent court action is “an important step in having the law overturned.”

Florida cannot bar two Chinese nationals from buying property in the state, a federal appeals court has ruled.

But the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop the state from enforcing the ban except for the two buyers who have already purchased or are in process of purchasing homes in Florida.

Still, the ruling was seen as a victory for immigrant buyers. "On behalf of our 18,000 members, I am thrilled with the court's action and all those who stand against discrimination in applauding the decision," said Jamie Tian, president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America. "This is an important step in having the law overturned."

The case was brought by four Chinese citizens and Orlando-based Multi-Choice Realty, who claimed the law violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and fair housing laws. The plaintiffs originally requested an injunction shortly after the law took effect in July 2023, but a District Court judge denied that request in August.

The preliminary injunction prevents the state from applying the law against Yifan Shen and Zhiming Xu "because their recent and pending transactions create the most imminent risk of irreparable harm in the absence of a stay."

A final ruling on the case may be near

The brokerage and two of the individuals suing were not given a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the law, in part because the court expects a final ruling in the case relatively soon.

"This limited equitable relief is further justified in light of the expedited nature of this appeal: oral argument has been set for only a few months away, at which point the merits panel will be better positioned to determine the issues presented on appeal," the appellate court order stated.

The four individuals who sued are living in Florida on non-immigrant H-1B visas for workers with specialty occupations, or an F-1 student visa. Xu has a pending political asylum application.

The appeals court ruling relied on a "substantial likelihood" of success because the Florida statute runs afoul of federal laws. One member of the appeals panel, Justice Nancy Abudu, filed a concurring opinion saying she believed the ban also violates the 14th Amendment.

"The statute's language, the anti-Chinese statements from Florida's public officials, and SB 264's impact establish that the law is a blanket ban against Chinese non-citizens from purchasing land within the state," Abudu wrote. "This prohibition blatantly violates the Fourteenth Amendment's protection against discrimination."

Florida law focuses on China but casts a wider net

The law in question, SB 264, restricts the purchase or ownership of certain types of real estate by non-permanent U.S. residents from China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria.

But it was the Chinese buyers who were specifically called out in statements by Governor Ron DeSantis upon signing the bill into law.

The law was designed to "counteract the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state of Florida," he said at the time. "Florida is taking action to stand against the United States' greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party." 

Tian said the law will hurt even U.S. citizens. "Sellers and their real estate agents, who are unable to discern of a buyer's nationality, may refrain from selling to anyone of Asian descent because they would be worried about committing a third-degree felony and its potential penalty of five years in prison."

As a child of immigrants, Tian said the law is particularly concerning. "The Florida law hits home for me personally. My parents came to the U.S. from China as PhD candidates, and they eventually bought a home in Irvine, California. That home — and the safety and security it provided — changed the course of my life. My love of that home led me to get my real estate license while at UCLA and to eventually own my own brokerage," Tian said. 

"I shudder to think about what my parents would've went through today if they had settled in Florida."

Get the latest real estate news delivered to your inbox.