Former California Assembly member Tom Hom points out his siblings in a family photo, Aug. 12, 2021. The family is photographed outside of the North Park home that his family bought at a time when many homes in the neighborhood had restrictive covenants. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Racial restrictions were touted in deeds across San Diego County. Though no longer enforceable, neighborhoods from Vista to San Ysidro to Paradise Hills to Coronado used the racist language as a selling point.

As Roxana Popescu reported in her latest investigation, it’s not certain how many people were impacted by these covenants, but a review of digitized county records found more than 10,000 recorded property documents with such restrictions.

In San Diego County, finding out if a property had a racially restrictive covenant at one point can be a bit tedious. Deeds within the county don’t typically reference a property’s previous deeds, meaning that to find past covenants, a person must get ahold of past deeds. 

One option is to bring in the help of a title company. You can request a Condition of Title known also as a Preliminary Title Report that will reflect anything that burdens the property, including restrictions. It’s similar to what you would request if doing a sale or refinance. The report typically takes between five and seven days to complete and costs between $500 and $1,000, according to Richard Moore, a title officer at Chicago Title Insurance’s San Diego office.

But if you’re looking to complete the process on your own, there are steps you can take to find the old deeds and search for covenants. inewsource spoke with Deborah Shanks, a risk management consultant with Tiburon Services who specializes in property research, to break down the process.

Keep in mind a new state law just passed aiming to make it easier and more accessible to uncover and remove racially restrictive language.

Here’s our step-by-step guide:

  1. Go to your local branch of the San Diego County’s Assessor’s Office. There are locations in downtown San Diego, Santee, San Marcos, Chula Vista and Kearny Mesa. Though you can find some information about prior property deeds within the San Diego County search system from the comfort of your home, you’ll need to visit a branch to view a copy of the actual deeds and any covenants.
  2. There, you’ll want to find your property’s deed. You can do that by searching the property owner’s name in the Grantor/Grantee Index. 
  3. Once you pull up your property deed, you’ll find the person who granted you the property listed under grantor. The name of the grantor and grantee is also available and searchable online, along with the date the deed was recorded.
  4. Once you have the name of the grantor, you’ll begin another search for the deed prior. This time you’ll search the new found name as the grantee to find the deed under which they acquired the property. Just like with your own deed, you’ll be able to see the grantor and date as well as the book and page number or document number under which you can find the digitized deed at the county. 
  5. Continue this search process as far back as you need. Remember that a series of laws beginning in 1948 made these covenants unenforceable and likely to have fallen off the deed in years following if the property was sold. However, there are still racially restrictive covenants on homes today, though sparse.
  6. You’ll find any covenants in the legal description of the deed. Look for language that refers to the “Caucasian race.” Deeds are typically one to three pages. 

    Here’s an example of what a covenant can look like, though they’re expressed in other ways as well.

    “No conveyance, transfer or lease of said property, nor any lease of any building that may be placed thereon, shall be made to any person not belonging to the Caucasian race or being one of that race, and neither the said property nor any building thereon shall be used or occupied by any person not belonging to the Caucasian race, as owner, lessee or tenant, nor in any other capacity except as servant.”

inewsource reporter Roxana Popescu contributed to this report.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Kate Sequeira is a general assignment reporter and web/social media producer at inewsource, where she reports on issues across San Diego County and assists in running the website, social media accounts and newsletters. She is a former inewsource intern and a graduate of the University of Southern California,...