January 07, 2022
Gilbert LLP has undertaken two pro bono projects to address inequities in so-called heirs property law primarily affecting the African American community. Specifically, we are actively supporting efforts to enact legislation in the District of Columbia and Maryland to change certain aspects of real estate partition laws that permit speculators to unfairly deprive underprivileged property owners of generational family real estate wealth.
Under DC and Maryland partition laws, as has been common around the country, any tenant in common of real property (residential, farm, or unimproved) can file a partition action with the court to liquidate his or her share. But in doing so, under current law the entire property, not just the individual share, typically is sold at auction on the courthouse steps. This creates perverse incentives for real estate speculators to acquire a single share of heirs property, force a sale of the entire property, acquire the property at a below-market cost, and then flip it or develop it, shifting multi-generational wealth from the current family owners to the speculator. Such actions are one reason African-American land ownership and associated family wealth declined dramatically in the 20th Century, and they remain a significant threat today to vulnerable populations in both urban and rural settings.
We are working on these projects with Professor Thomas Mitchell of the Texas A&M University School of Law, who won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant last year for his role in drafting the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (“UPHPA”) and securing its enactment in 18 states and one U.S. territory thus far, as well as other efforts over the course of his career to address historic inequities affecting African American economic access and wealth creation and preservation.
Gilbert LLP’s role includes assembling and working with coalitions to support enactment of the UPHPA in the District of Columbia and Maryland, including civil rights, real estate, conservation, land use, and legal organizations. Gilbert LLP partner Richard Shore testified in support of the UPHPA at a hearing of the DC City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety earlier this year. We are working with DC and Maryland legislators to move the UPHPA forward to enactment in each jurisdiction.