Controversial Florida Law Receives Limited Injunction

In May 2023, Florida ratified Senate Bill (SB) 264, the law named “Interests of Foreign Countries.” The law restricts the sale or purchase of property in Florida by or/to citizens of countries including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described the passage of the bill as, “counteract(ing) the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state of Florida.” 

However, many housing advocates argue the law is tantamount to housing discrimination. The law could, for instance, discourage REALTORS® from taking on Asian-American clients out of fear of a punitive response. Refusal to work with clients based on their ethnicity violates both the Fair Housing Act and the bylaws of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). 

The Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (overseeing Florida, Georgia and Alabama) agreed with the opponents of the law—though their current response is far less sweeping than those opponents would likely wish. 

The law was challenged in the suit Shen v. Simpson, filed by four Chinese citizens and Multi-Choice Realty. (The case is named for plaintiff Yifan Shen and defendant Wilton Simpson, Florida commissioner of agriculture.) An injunction against the law was previously denied on August 23, 2023, by Allen Winsor, judge of the District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiffs took the case to the higher court, the Appeals Court, which granted an injunction on February 1, 2024, citing the law’s violations of the 14th Amendment’s protection against discrimination and “Anti-Chinese language” by Florida state officials. 

However—and this is the important part—the injunction applies only to two specific plaintiffs: Shen and Zhiming Xu, who were conducting pending transactions when the law went into effect. 

“The balance of equities tips in (Shen and Xu’s) favor because their recent and pending transactions create the most imminent risk of irreparable harm in the absence of a stay,” the injunction order writes.

The Appeals Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Shen v. Simpson in April 2024. The three-panel judges’ final decision on overturning the law or not will follow. One might assume that the court granting this injunction suggests which way they will rule, as could Judge Nancy Abudu’s decisive opinion on the law’s impact: “The law is a blanket ban against Chinese non-citizens from purchasing land within the state (of Florida).” 

However, nothing is assured. Further appeal on the case would be brought before the Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the injunction, as did the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), which has been opposed to the law since its passing. AREAA President Jamie Tian wrote:

“The Florida law hits home for me personally. My parents came to the U.S. from China as PhD candidates and they eventually bought a home in Irvine, California. That home—and the safety and security it provided—changed the course of my life. My love of that home led me to get my real estate license while at UCLA and to eventually own my own brokerage. I shudder to think about what my parents would’ve went through today if they had settled in Florida. It’s infuriating to realize we now live in a reality where homeownership is potentially out of arm’s reach for AANHPI people in Florida. This ruling is the first step in overturning the law.”

When asked by RISMedia about the limited scope of the injunction, Tian stressed the positive: 

“The court clearly stated that the law is likely unconstitutional. Every step towards overturning this law and preventing similar laws and bills in other states is a win.”

Florida is one of 20 other states that have passed laws banning international citizens of certain countries from buying land in the U.S., including Texas. As Texas and Florida are both booming real estate markets, REALTORS® are absolutely part of the group these laws will impact if upheld. 

The Florida Governor’s office did not immediately respond to RISMedia’s request for comment.

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