Florida Law Barring Chinese Citizens from Owning Property Blocked by Appeals Court

Florida passed a law in May 2023 banning Chinese citizens from owning homes or land in the state. The law targets individuals who are “domiciled” in China and are not US citizens or green card holders from purchasing buildings or land in the state. There is a narrow exception for non-tourist visa holders whose countries own a single property that is at least five miles from critical infrastructure.

Governor DeSantis stated that the law would help protect Americans from the influence of the Chinese Community Party. The law also bars citizens from Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea from owning property near military installations and infrastructure such as airports or power plants.

A panel of the 11th Circuit determined that the law was unconstitutional and blocked Florida from enforcing the law. The 11th Circuit appeals court reversed a Florida federal judge that had ruled against the plaintiffs, two Chinese nationals who were in the process of buying property when the law was passed.

Florida is one of several states that have enacted restrictions on Chinese citizens owning property. Other states such as Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana have passed similar laws.

National Origin Discrimination Is Unconstitutional

The 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying the equal protection of the law to any “person within its jurisdiction.” The Civil Rights Act bars discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. Taken together, the federal government makes it unconstitutional for states to discriminate against people of different national origins, regardless of whether they are a citizen or not.

However, this doesn’t mean that every law that discriminates is unconstitutional. States may discriminate freely provided that the basis of the discrimination isn’t protected by law. For instance, states may bar felons from voting or buying firearms without violating the constitution because felons are not a protected group. Conversely, a state that discriminates on the basis of race or national origin must have a compelling purpose for doing so and the law must narrowly focus on that purpose.

Here, Florida claims it needs to bar persons from China from owning property near “critical infrastructure” to protect Americans from the Chinese Communist Party. It is unclear how barring people from owning property would do so. First, not everyone from China is a member of the Communist Party. Second, it is unclear how property ownership alone could influence Americans or infrastructure. The property by itself cannot spy on Americans. If the property owner just buys the property as an investment or rents it out to American citizens, the property owner isn’t doing harm to military bases or power plants.

Finally, it would be more prudent for the state of Florida or the federal government to increase security around “critical infrastructure.” Vulnerable infrastructure would be protected from all security threats if the government spends more on security around the infrastructure itself rather than regulate who lives near the infrastructure.

Do I Need a Property Lawyer?

Understanding the nuances of local real estate law is often difficult. Complex transactions are best handled by a knowledgeable lawyer that specializes in real estate law. If you are dealing with matters regarding real estate and property law, you should consider hiring a property lawyer for assistance.

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