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Love Letters are Legal Again

May 20th, 2022 by dk

Oregon was the first state to ban so-called “love letters” from prospective home buyers. That law has now been ruled unconstitutional by the courts. State Rep. Mark Meek, who authored the original legislation, has vowed to draft a new bill to prevent housing discrimination without limiting free speech.

Meek’s intentions were good from the start, but the execution of the rule was not. Meek, who is also a real estate agent, became concerned that these love letters were exacerbating discrimination and violating the federal Fair Housing Act. As of Jan. 1, 2022, Oregon real estate agents were barred from passing along letters from potential buyers.

Total Real Estate Group and other real estate brokers from the Bend area immediately sued, arguing that the law limited free speech communication between  sellers and potential buyers. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum recently conceded and the state agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees. It wasn’t a close call.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that money is equated with speech. We’ve been living in a different world since that Buckley v. Valeo ruling. It upended all sorts of limits for campaign donations and corporations’ lobbying efforts. Buckley was bad, and the Oregon law was worse.

Buckley established that money is speech. Oregon tried to say that in real estate transactions, only money is speech. Any other communication between buyer and seller facilitated by real estate agents was disallowed. This had the practical effect of sellers considering only financial terms offered by buyers and nothing else.

I bought my house in south Eugene from a friend. Neither of us used a Realtor, as I recall. He ignored a better offer to do his friend a favor. When my son bought his house in Glenwood, he wrote a letter to the seller about how he specifically wanted to live in that neighborhood and watch  the changes coming to the area. Again, the seller didn’t choose the highest bidder. So my experience may not be representative of typical buyers.

In my son’s defense, I caught him and his wife last spring on Easter Sunday morning with a wheelbarrow and 20 bags of quick-dry cement, trying to fill a pothole near their house. He and his young family pick up trash along the way whenever they walk around the neighborhood.

Meek is rightly concerned about buyers who have historically been disadvantaged. Sellers often want to find a buyer who resembles them. They’d rather not disrupt the neighborhood they are leaving. I’m glad that Meeks has promised to continue his effort, seeking to address the problem with more precision. That won’t be easy.

His latest idea is to require real estate agents to redact any information in buyers’ love letters that reveals anything about the writer’s sex, race, gender, age, or marital status. In an age when pronouns themselves have become politicized, it’s safe to assume that real estate agents don’t relish becoming human rights attorneys and now copy editors to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

So if  you know a Realtor, write them a love letter. They’ll appreciate it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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