Racial Equity: Gilbert Partner Richard Shore Testifies on Protecting Marginalized Groups from Forced Sales of Family Property in DC

Gilbert LLP partner Richard Shore testified on May 13 before the DC City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety in support of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act of 2021 (“UPHPA”).  The UPHPA is a model statute thus far adopted in 17 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands that is designed to help preserve family wealth passed down from generation to generation by limiting the ability of real estate speculators to use partition actions to acquire family-owned property through court-ordered auctions at well below fair market values.  This tactic mainly affects economically disadvantaged families, with a particular, dramatic impact on African-American owners of multi-generational family property.

Shore, who last year served on the Equity Committee of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s ReOpen DC Advisory Group, testified that “[c]urrent law creates perverse incentives for real estate speculators to . . . acquire a share of heirs property, force a partition sale, acquire the entire 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.”  He added that “[s]uch actions are one reason African-American land ownership declined dramatically in the 20th Century, and they remain a significant threat today.”

The UPHPA would address this systemic problem by, among other things, permitting family members to buy out the speculator and avoid a partition sale entirely, and ensuring that if there is a partition sale, it is conducted by a disinterested broker on the open market where the property is offered at fair market value rather than being sold by auction on the courthouse steps at a below-market price.  Shore said, “The time has come . . . to eliminate this easy legal path to depriving unsuspecting owners, particularly economically disadvantaged African-American owners, of property that has been in their family for generations, that represents a significant measure of their families’ wealth, and that often holds significant historic, family-heritage, or other non-economic value to heirs as well.”

The full transcript of Shore’s testimony is here.

Gilbert LLP is a Washington-based law firm specializing in litigation and strategic risk management, insurance recovery and complex dispute resolution.