Florida sued over law restricting foreign national real estate buys

Lawsuit filed by a group of Chinese citizens and a brokerage alleges SB 264 is unconstitutional and discriminatory

Illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis

Illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (Getty)

A group of Chinese citizens is suing Florida officials over the state’s new law that restricts foreign investment in Florida real estate from specific countries, and enacts a near ban on purchases by Chinese nationals. 

The lawsuit alleges the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that it violates the Fair Housing Act. 

Senate Bill 264, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law earlier this month, prohibits nearly all Chinese citizens and businesses based in China from purchasing real estate in Florida. Foreign investors from the other “countries of concern,” including Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Iran, Korea and Syria are banned from buying agricultural land in the state, as well as real estate within 10 miles of military and critical infrastructure facilities. 

The latter casts a wide range, and includes seaports, airports, chemical manufacturing facilities, electrical power plants, water treatment plants and gas plants. Anyone who knowingly sells such real estate to people or entities from those countries would be subject to punishment by the state. 

The law takes effect July 1. 

Yifan Shen, Zhiming Xu, Xinxi Wang, Yongxin Liu and Clermont-based real estate brokerage Multi-Choice Realty filed a lawsuit against Florida’s Agricultural Commissioner Wilton Simpson, Economic Opportunity Florida Secretary Meredith Ivey and Florida Real Estate Commission Chair Patricia Fitzgerald in federal court on Monday. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs. 

Simpson and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity said it does not comment on active litigation.

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The plaintiffs are alleging that the law imposes “especially draconian restrictions” on people from China, and that it stigmatizes Chinese and Chinese American people who “will be forced to cancel purchases of new homes,” as well as register their properties with the state. Multi-Choice Realty, which primarily does business with Chinese and Chinese American clients, could lose significant business, the complaint alleges. 

The law “casts a cloud of suspicion over anyone of Chinese descent who seeks to buy property in Florida,” according to the lawsuit. 

The Florida Legislature passed SB 264 on May 4, and DeSantis signed it into law on May 8, alongside SB 258 and 846, which the governor claims are all meant to “counteract the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state of Florida.” One exception that was later added to SB 264 allows foreign nationals with non-tourist visas to purchase one residential property of up to 2 acres if the property is not on or within five miles of a military installation. 

The ACLU said that DeSantis’ “misguided rationale unfairly equates Chinese people with the actions of their government, and there is no evidence of national security harm resulting from real estate ownership by Chinese people in Florida,” according to a press release. 

Critics of SB 264 compared certain aspects of the legislation to Nazi Germany, including the required registration of such properties already owned by Chinese investors or people from what the state considers “countries of concern.” 

Real estate brokers have also called the restrictions discriminatory, with the potential to discourage foreign investment also from countries not included in the legislation.

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