January 29, 2024 — Press Release

NCLC report examines legal strategies to slow the rate of home loss in communities of color 

WASHINGTON – Increasing home costs, economic crises, and persistent structural barriers to fair housing have each contributed to a widening homeownership gap between white and Black households. As a result, advocates and policymakers have devoted considerable attention to increasing access to homeownership for first time homebuyers of color. But a new report looks at reducing the racial wealth gap in another way, by slowing the rate of home loss in communities of color through heirs property. 

Keeping It In The Family: Legal Strategies to Address the Challenge of Heirs Property and Prevent Home Loss analyzes laws and policies aimed at helping owners of heirs property. “Heirs property” describes a form of property ownership that arises when several heirs inherit a home but have not completed the probate process to clarify title. Over successive generations of unclear title, this can lead to dozens of heirs with an increasingly fractional ownership interest in a home.

“Protecting heirs property owners from losing their homes and increasing avenues for families to obtain a clear title will help to reduce the racial wealth gap,” said Nketiah “Ink” Berko, Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by the Rossotti Foundation, at the National Consumer Law Center. “Some studies estimate that more than half the real property owned by Black Americans is owned as heirs property, threatening the physical and financial security of Black families.” 

Heirs property is disproportionately experienced in communities of color. Due to both historical abuses from and a present day lack of access to the legal system, Black Americans are significantly less likely than their white counterparts to have a will. 

Heirs property status threatens both the physical and financial security of families. Unable to prove legal title, heirs property owners are often excluded from property tax relief programs, and disaster relief funds. Unclear title may also bar heirs property owners from obtaining homeowners insurance or receiving home repair grants and loans, rendering residents housing-insecure and threatening them with displacement and their neighborhoods with blight.

The report identifies and analyzes three categories of legal interventions that have been adopted in jurisdictions across the country to stem the tide of home loss and equity theft related to heirs property status: 

  • prevent immediate land loss; 
  • resolve heirs property and clarifying ownership status; and 
  • prevent heirs property from occurring in the future. 

The report provides additional recommendations for states to tackle home loss.

“This problem calls for concerted action on multiple fronts: to protect heirs from home loss, resolve and clarify fractured ownership, and prevent future heirs property from developing,” said Sarah Bolling Mancini, co-director of advocacy at the National Consumer Law Center and co-author of the report. “Enacting these kinds of laws at the state level is extremely important. These legal and policy strategies, deployed together, can make a meaningful difference in eliminating the racial wealth gap and tackling the problem of heirs property.”

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