Restrictive Covenants in University Park

Example of a restrictive covenant from a sale on Aug. 1, 1938, in University Park from “A Brief History of the Town of University Park.”

If you bought a house in University Park in 1938, you were prohibited from selling it to a racial minority.

The real estate company which developed the town included so-called “restrictive covenants” with every deed of sale. The nine-point contract was intended to keep the town’s suburban nature, with restrictions on the use of buildings for boarding houses, apartments or hotels, among other things.

But the eighth point stands out most to modern readers:

8. That said land, or any part thereof, or interest therein, shall never be rented, leased, sold, transferred or conveyed unto any negro or colored person.

Restrictive covenants were once common throughout the United States. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that they were unenforceable in court because they were racially discriminatory but it wasn’t until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that they were outlawed by Congress.

A 1976 history of the town by Phyllis Bate Sparks available in the Hyattsville Public Library’s local history collection gives the background for the deed restrictions:

From the beginning it was made plain to all property owners that University Park would be limited to the use of single family dwellings, free from “any commercial encroachment.” Until the late 1940s, each deed, negotiated between buyer and individual seller, contained a variant upon a covenant. It was these “restrictive covenants” which were invoked in later years when the Town of University Park found itself faced with the continuing problem of tourist homes, apartment projects, home operated businesses, and the like.

According to Sparks, the restrictive covenants in University Park mostly proved contentious over the years as residents sought to open businesses or change their homes:

While some parts of the original covenants were obviously invalidated by the wave of “open housing” legislation at all government levels in the late 1960s, the Town was able successfully to halt would-be violations as various as a taxidermist shop on Woodberry Street and a dentist office on East-West Highway.

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2 Responses to Restrictive Covenants in University Park

  1. Phil Marsosudiro says:

    One of my aunts, a fair-skinned woman born in the Philippines, became a University Park home owner in ~1977 when she married a longtime (caucasian) resident on Underwood St. Over the years, many of our relatives (with “regular” skin tone, as Filipinos go) joined them in the house for a year or four. I wonder if any of the longtime residents remembered the restrictive covenant and wished it were still in effect.

  2. Meredith Massey says:

    I had a Jewish friend who moved into UP in the 70’s and said that anti-semitic clauses were still in on the books, though not enforced, at that time.

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