Lawsuit claims Oregon’s real estate ‘love letter’ ban stifles free speech

Free speech advocates have filed an injunction against Oregon’s new law banning love letters from potential homebuyers.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Free speech advocates have filed an injunction against Oregon’s new law banning so-called “love letters” from potential homebuyers.

Bend’s Total Real Estate Group wants a federal judge to block Oregon law before it goes into effect in January.

The law would prevent real estate agents from giving personal offers to sellers. Proponents say these letters may be the only advantage a first-time buyer has over capital investors who buy single-family homes to flip or rent. There is concern that such letters could violate fair housing laws by disclosing a buyer’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status.

Related: Oregon becomes the first state in the US to ban love letters from homebuyers

Democratic Rep. Mark Meek, who promoted the legislation, told USA Today in August that Oregon does not interfere with free speech.

“We limit the transmission of communications that are not relevant and potentially violate fair housing laws,” he said.

But Daniel Ortner, free speech attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, said there was no evidence of a problem.

“If you are trying to restrict the language, you should have a compelling reason,” said Ortner. “And you must have evidence. You have to prove that it is necessary, that it serves a very important function or a very important purpose. “

Ortner said love letters help first-time buyers compete with institutional investors and can show sellers which good neighbors could be.

“The home talk is particularly important and is protected by the Constitution,” he said. “It is a heavily unconstitutional law and I look forward to it being abolished.”

Oregon is the first and only state to ban love letters about real estate.

The move to stop love letters is part of a reckoning within the real estate sector after decades of apartment segregation and red-lineing that kept minorities out of certain neighborhoods.

The National Association of Realtors has warned its members that love letters may not be as harmless as they seem.

But they can be effective. Redfin Real Estate Brokerage was looking for the best ways to win a bidding war in 2019. At the top were pure money offers, followed by love letters, which increased a buyer’s chances by almost 60%.