Discriminatory Covenants and Deed Restrictions in Wisconsin

Offensive, discriminatory covenants based on race and other protected classes appear in deeds and subdivision restrictions and covenants throughout Wisconsin. While illegal, this language remains on the title records and title commitment reports received by buyers looking to purchase these properties.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act and Wisconsin’s Open Housing Law prohibits discriminatory covenants and deed restrictions in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the 1968 law fails to erase discriminatory restrictions from property deeds and title records.

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association supports legislation in 2022 that would propose numerous steps to address discriminatory covenants and deed restrictions in Wisconsin by:

  • Allowing a property owner to record a statutory form with the register of deeds to discharge and release the restriction from the title
  • Requiring the statutory form to be provided by the state free of charge
  • Obliging the register of deeds to remove the restriction if the statutory form is submitted

The following are some examples of discriminatory covenants that currently exist on Wisconsin properties:

“No Persons other than the white race shall own or occupy any building on said tract, but this covenant shall not prevent occupancy of persons of a race other than the white race who are domestic servants of the owner or occupant of said buildings.” (Crestview Acres 12, Greendale, recorded July 29, 1958)
 
Nakoma in Dane County: “No part of these premises shall ever be owned or occupied by any person of the Ethiopian race.”
 

Washington Highlands Subdivision in 1919. This covenant stated: “At no time shall the land included in Washington Highlands or any part thereof, or any building thereon be purchased, owned, leased or occupied by any person other than of white race. This prohibition is not intended to include domestic servants while employed by the owner or occupied by and [sic] land included in the tract.” (Vol. 803, Page 205)

Bayside Subdivision. “That all the sections within which the aforementioned lots are located shall be maintained exclusively as a first-class residential section to be owned, used, and occupied only by members of the white race, unless the majority of the owners at any time owning property in said sections otherwise consent in writing. It is not intended hereby, however, to so restrict the occupancy of any part of said premises, or any part thereof, by domestic employees of a different race employed by an owner or occupant of said premises.”

Kirkwood subdivision. “No race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot in said subdivision, however, this covenant shall not prevent the occupancy of domestic servants of a different race employed by an owner or tenant.”