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half of the 58 local real estate boards in New York State and their over 35,000 licensed real estate brokers and sales people in addition to the hundreds of thousands of property owners we serve each year.
Let me express my appreciation on behalf of our organization for having been granted this opportunity to appear before you.
One week from yesterday, this country will be busily engaged in celebrating their Independence Day, the most important day in the life of free people everywhere.
In 1776 when this Nation received its independence, one of the foremost considerations was the right of an individual to own property without the interference or coercion of his government. The occasion of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was in itself a reaffirmation of the rights set forth in the Magna Carta-rights alluding to the fact that a man's home was his castle and his right to own and enjoy it, unassailable. This important document marked the end of the feudal system, whereby title to all land rested with the crown and individuals who wished to occupy it were subject to the whims and fancies of the central government, and for whatever property rights and privileges were granted, homage was demanded and paid at an unparalleled price.
It is ironic that today nearly 200 years after this Nation has thrown off this undemocratic system that the Congress should be considering a law which would destroy the basic human right of private property ownership.
I am, of course, making reference to title IV of the 1966 proposed civil rights law. We believe that this bill not only flouts our U.S. Constitution and the rights it guarantees to our individual citizens but impairs one's right to own and freely enjoy their property. The proposal strikes a piercing blow at the heart of individual liberty.
Under the guise of civil rights, proponents of this bill undoubtedly feel that if enacted, this law would strengthen property rights and insure equal opportunity in housing. However, it would not only fail to achieve its intended purpose but it would sacrifice one of the most treasured rights of all property owners—the right to determine the disposition of his property without legal coercion on the part of his government. Indeed at stake is the basic principle of freedom of contract: the right of an individual to enter into or refuse to enter into a contract in the disposition of his property based entirely upon his own judgment.
The laws of our land are historically made in the public interest and I submit to you that title IV is not only against the public interest in that it deprives individual citizens of their rights, but is, in fact, against the will of the people of this great country. In every instance that the voters have had the opportunity to express their desires on this very question, this type of legislation has been rejected by an overwhelming majority. The most recent poll on the national level conducted by the National Broadcasting Co. indicated an overwhelming failure on the part of the people to support this legislative concept.
I should like to make clear that our association is dedicated to equal opportunity in the housing field. Our policy states that we will support and promote the right of an individual to own real property and to exercise and enjoy the freedom of this ownership. We
recognize that this is not a privilege of any particular group but one that is possessed by all of our citizens. However, we also recognize that this freedom of ownership includes the right to determine the disposition of one's property.
New York State property owners have been encumbered with a law similar to the one before you for a number of years, and today its most outspoken proponents admit that the law has failed its intended purpose, and has, in many areas of our State, done little more than to create chaos in the housing market.
Our New York State law has not succeeded in achieving equal opportunity in housing or for that matter the ultimate goal of integration. Indeed, it has, if anything, created a favorable climate for panic peddlers who use racial or ethnic movement to profiteer in the housing market and not only at the expense of the minority groups but indeed at the expense of all unsuspecting property owners. It has succeeded in shifting areas of heavy ethnic concentration from one part of a community to another rather than eliminating them. It has eliminated the property rights of all citizens, minorities and majorities alike, and any law which curtails the rights of all citizens to freely enjoy their property as they see fit, so long as their use is not injurious to their neighbors, is a bad law.
Since some of our local communities in New York State have also enacted these laws, property owners are confused and bewildered since three or even sometimes four agencies are involved, each with a different set of regulations. A Federal law would only add another agency further confounding the property owner.
It is literally impossible, as has been proven in New York State, to eliminate prejudice and discrimination by use of legislation and police tactics. The curtailing of rights of all citizens is not the answer to insuring equal opportunity for our Nation's minorities. Americans living in a free democratic society will not, through the use of legislative coercion, be forced into an unwilling or unwanted position concerning the disposition of their property. Legislation of this type will not only impede the progress already underway, but, almost assuredly, will set us back in our quest for complete freedom of opportunity in the housing field. The gains in this area that have been recognized to date have come about primarily due to the influence of churches, schools, and men of good will through the use of the educacational process and voluntary acceptance by the public.
The New York State law, which does not have the rigid enforcement procedures of the Federal proposal but is indeed a conciliatory law, has proven itself to be a vehicle by which publicity seekers who have proven themselves not interested in the goals of equal opportunity but only in individual personal advancement to unjustifiably harass, frighten, and even threaten property owners.
A forced housing law such as this that tramples on a fundamental right will not advance this extremely important cause. In addition to the fundamental right that this proposed law would destroy, I wish to point out that it is in every sense contrary to our entire system of laws as we know them today in this country.
It, in a sense, places a citizen in a position of being guilty until he has proven himself innocent and makes him subject to virtually unlimited penalties. In addition, the proposed bill puts at the disposal of his accuser all of the machinery and assistance of the Federal Government and indeed calls upon the property owner to stand alone in his own defense. It imposes penalties in the way of injunctive restrictions on the disposition of the property even before the accused has had his constitutionally guaranteed "day in court," let alone having been adjudged guilty of infractions under the law.
While all of these penalties and restrictions are set forth in the law, nowhere is there the right or opportunity for the accused who is adjudged blameless to recover damages that he may have suffered. It is interesting to note that in all of these forced housing laws that appear around the Nation, not one sets forth penalties prohibiting a purchaser or prospective tenant from discriminating in his selection of property to purchase or rent because of race, creed, or ethnic origin. As a matter of fact, nothing short of thought control legislation would succeed in eliminating this situation. Until such a time as this Nation, its buyers, its sellers, landlords, and tenants alike, accept voluntarily the principle of equal opportunity in housing, all attempts to legislate prejudice and discrimination out of existence will not only fail but will deter the very cause they were intended to promote.
It is our solemn belief that the individual American property owner, regardless of race, color, or creed, must be allowed, under law, to retain:
1. The right of privacy. 2. The right to choose his own friends. 3. The right to own and enjoy property according to his own dictates.
4. The right to occupy and dispose of property without governmental interference in accordance with the dictates of his conscience.
5. The right of all equally to enjoy property without interference by laws giving special privilege to any group or groups.
6. The right to maintain what, in his opinion, are congenial surroundings for tenants.
7. The right to contract with a real estate broker or other representative of his choice and to authorize him to act for him according to his instructions.
8. The right to determine the acceptability and desirability of any prospective buyer or tenant of his property.
9. The right of every American to choose who in his opinion are congenial tenants in any property he owns—to maintain the stability and security of his income.
10. The right to enjoy the freedom to accept, reject, negotiate, or not negotiate with others. Loss of these rights diminishes personal freedom and creates a springboard for further erosion of liberty.
In summary, the proposed law is a bad law. It is contrary to the public interest and is being offered in direct opposition to the expressed will of the people.
The members of our association and the thousands of property owners that they service ask you to protect and safeguard the human rights of all citizens and reject this legislation.
Senator ERVIN. Title IV of this bill would, if enacted into law and upheld, deprive every American who owns property of the right to sell or lease such property freely according to his own judgment, would it not?
Mr. ELMSTROM. We feel this right would be removed, yes.
Senator ERVIN. Title IV also undertakes to deprive real estate brokers of the right to carry out the instructions of those who entrust their property to them for sale or rent.
Mr. ELMSTROM. Yes.
Senator ERVIN. Title IV would also limit the right of financial institutions to loan their own funds or the funds of their depositors to persons desiring to purchase homes, would it not?
Mr. ELMSTROM. Yes, it would.
Senator Ervin. Can you imagine any legislative proposal which is more calculated to impair the right of private property as well as the right of contract than title IV?
Mr. ELMSTROM. We stand utterly opposed to this title IV. We believe it is wrong for the property owners and the citizens.
Senator Ervin. Thank you.
Senator Javits. Mr. Elmstrom, first let me welcome you as a New Yorker. Even though we do not agree, I am still glad to see you and, of course, there are many areas in which I am in complete agreement with the real estate industry in New York.
Aside from the administration of the Federal law, do you see any great difference—you do not have to be too detailed as a lawyer, but just answer as a real estate man-do you see any great difference between the Federal law and the New York State law, leaving aside the question of administrative suits and
Mr. ELMSTROM. That is where we see the greatest difference, in the penalties and the method of approach. We refer to the New York law and we firmly believe it is more of a conciliatory law. It has a machinery connected to it that allows people to appear before a commission and so forth, without penalties, that usually they try to conciliate the problem, and I believe it is working out in most cases that way. But this law is highly restrictive and has very severe penalties.
Senator Javits. Is it fair to say that it would be much more feasible and practical from even your point of view if title IV had administrative remedies analogous to those in the New York law, rather than the individual suit provision which it has now?
Mr. ELMSTROM. I have to repeat that we stand opposed, to title IV, even if it were to be amended.
Senator Javits. Completely, I understand.
Mr. ELMSTROM. I would have to see exactly what was proposed, but I believe what you are saying there would obviously improve the bill. I would have to see what you mention first, though, before I comment on it.
Senator Javits. Would you tell us which year, from 1959 to 1966, inclusive, has been the best year from the point of view of residential property in the real estate business!
Mr. ÉLMSTROM. You mean financially?
Senator JAVITS. From the point of view of most transactions, most turnovers? I know that is what interests you the most.
Mr. ELMSTROM. Well, our State is a big one and we have many problems in one area that we do not have in another. I could not honestly state which was the best year. I would have no figures to support myself.
Senator Javits. For example, has 1965 been worse or better than 1959 or
Mr. ELMSTROM. Much better, of course. Inflation takes care of some of this.
Senator Javits. The real estate base, as we say colloquially, has been better in 1965 than 1959.
Mr. ELMSTROM. Yes.
Senator Javits. I notice you say that the New York State law has “in many areas of our State, done little more than to create chaos in the housing market.”
What do you mean by that?
Mr. ELMSTROM. The reason this is in our statement, Senator, we have areas of our State and I refer you to Cambria Heights as one, I refer you to Laurelton, Long Island, with which I am sure you are familiar—in this area there has been a strong change in the ethnic makeup of these neighborhoods. The chaos was created at one point as a result of a cease-and-desist order issued by our secretary of state to solicit no business in that area. The effort was made to hold the proportion of whites versus Negroes. This created a number of probIems down there. We believe that we have worked very hard to try to solve that problem. Even now the problem is not solved-everybody is working hard on it. As a result of the way it did turn out, we believe if the New York law had not been in effect, we could have solved it. The citizens could have solved it much easier than trying to hold a certain percentage of different races.
We have records full in our offices of incidents that happened there which indicate that if it were not for this law, a better balance would probably have been maintained in the neighborhood. But as it is, people cannot refuse to sell to anyone, so there is no way of maintaining a balance.
Senator JAVITS. The cease-and-desist order was directod toward block busting, was it not; that is, panicking white residents into selling their property?
Mr. ELMSTROM. We were told that that is why it was issued. It was issued through the secretary of state.
Senator JAVITS. The secretary of state's orders in New York are judicially reviewable, are they not?
Mr. ELMSTROM. Yes.
Senator Javits. Can you tell us in New York how many complaints have actually been issued in New York under this antidiscrimination in housing law?
Mr. ELMSTROM. Statewide ?
Mr. ELMSTROM. I am told they are averaging 500 a year at this point.