The state flag of Florida and a judge's gavel
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Florida law puts agents at risk, housing groups say 

Fair housing advocates and AREAA filed a suit claiming a law prohibiting property sales to certain non-U.S. citizens puts agents in an untenable position.

May 6, 2024
3 minutes

Real estate agents in Florida are forced to violate either the state law or the Federal Housing Act, according to a federal suit filed Monday by fair housing advocates.

What is the case about? At issue is a Florida state law severely restricting real estate purchases by buyers from China and six other targeted countries. The law, known as SB 264, went into effect last summer. 

"SB 264 forces sellers of real property and real estate professionals involved in the sale of real property to choose between compliance with federal law and compliance with SB 264," the suit claims.

"The law forces real estate professionals to identify people they perceive as being from one of the seven targeted countries; ask them about their immigration status, including whether they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents; ask them about where they are domiciled; and refuse to help those who are defined as 'foreign principals' under the law to purchase property if it is within ten miles of a critical infrastructure facility or military installation unless a narrow exception applies."

Knowingly violating the law would subject both agents and sellers to criminal prosecution, the plaintiffs argue.

Who filed the lawsuit? The Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), the National Fair Housing Alliance, Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, and Florida brokerage King Realty Advisors filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Miami, claiming a Florida law aimed at Chinese citizens violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

"This legislation echoes last century's 'alien land laws,' which also restricted the property rights of Asian Americans on the basis of stereotypes and prejudice," said Noah Baron, an attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The suit names the Florida secretary of commerce, the chair of the Florida Real Estate Commission and various state attorneys as defendants.

What does SB 264 mandate? The law prohibits certain property purchases by non-U.S. citizens from seven countries: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. But it places the biggest penalties and restrictions on buyers from China. Violating the law is a felony for Chinese nationals, but it's a misdemeanor for buyers from the other targeted countries.

Buyers from the named countries are not allowed to buy real estate within ten miles of "critical infrastructure facilities or military institutions." That covers 98.5% of all residential land in Florida, according to the plaintiffs.

Another suit aimed at the law, brought by individual buyers and another brokerage, is still working its way through the courts.

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