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Judge ends Oregon ban on real estate ‘love letters’

FILE: A Bend, Ore., home for sale.
David Nogueras
FILE: A Bend, Ore., home for sale.

A federal judge concluded that Oregon’s law banning real estate “love letters” is unconstitutional.

The law, approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2021, prohibited real estate agents from accepting any communication from potential buyers other than “customary documents.” Oregon was the only state with such a law, which was intended to prevent discrimination among sellers as they decide who will buy their home.

Total Real Estate Group, a Bend-based company, sued Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Real Estate Commissioner Steve Strode, arguing that the law violated the First Amendment.

Attorney Daniel Ortner, who represented the company, said these letters can actually help underprivileged buyers.

“Buyers who maybe can’t compete on things like how much cash they can offer [as a down payment],” Ortner said. “It gives them a chance to compete because they can explain why they love the house.”

District Judge Marco A. Hernández in March temporarily halted the law from being enforced with a preliminary injunction on the basis that it was “likely” unconstitutional. Hernández reached a final conclusion this week with a consent decree announcing that the law violates the First Amendment.

Housing prices in Portland and across the country have risen dramatically in the last few years, causing buyers to take drastic measures — like writing “love letters” or skipping building inspections — to gain an upper hand in a competitive market. In Portland, the median home price was about $450,000 in April 2020, according to real estate brokerage company Redfin. In two years, it grew to $565,000, with homes remaining on the market for an average of five days.

Some economistsexpect housing prices to cool off in some parts of the country.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a news host and regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.