University Park, a Prince George's County suburb that is home to some of the county's wealthiest and most influential residents, still has a restrictive covenant that prohibits the sale of homes to blacks.
Robert Levan, the town's lawyer, said that the covenant was attached to land deeds when the area was subdivided by a private developer in the 1920s, and was never changed because "it's never occurred to anyone to enforce it. Since it's unenforceable, it's not worth the effort to have it removed."
Restrictive covenants like the one in University Park once were common in subdivisions and suburban towns that grew up around the nation's cities.But a 1978 Supreme Court ruling held that racial restrictions on deeds were unenforceable, and civil rights legislation adopted in the 1960s prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of property.
Several state human relations officials, legal experts and civil rights leaders contacted yesterday said they didn't know of any other town in Maryland that still has such convenants.
Despite the covenant, town officials said yesterday, several black families have lived in the affluent community south of the University of Maryland's College Park campus, although they did not know whether any live there now.
The covenant states that land "shall never be rented, leased, sold, transferred or conveyed unto any negro or colored person," and the town charter provides for the mayor and council to enforce that rule and any other convenants.
However, Levan said that the charter is in the process of being rewritten "and you can rest assured that that provision won't be there." The covenant, he said, "does not reflect the view of the council. They know it's unenforceable."
According to the 1970 census, there were three black residents among the town's population of 2,926. Ten years earlier, the town had one black resident.
"If we don't have blacks, it's because of the high cost of homes in this area," said Mayor Ruth Lutwack. Homes in University Park sell from about $60,000 to $200,000, she said.
"Real estate people know that those things don't apply. No blacks are discouraged," Lutwack said.
She said that because the covenants are attached to deeds, "the town isn't involved. It's an agreement between landowners. My guess is that most people (owning homes in the town) don't even know the convenants exist."
Josie Bass, president of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP, said yesterday when told of the covenant, "I'm enraged. We would hope they would be sensitive enough to take that off the books without our having to take legal action."
Bass said such covenants, if left on the books, could be used to convince blacks who are looking for homes in Prince George's that they should not look in University Park.
Bass said the NAACP has not received any discrimination complaints from blacks who had wanted to purchase homes in the town.
The county's Human Relations Commission also said it has not received any housing discrimination complaints about the town.
Officials at the county commission and its equivalent at the state level said they did not know if any similarly restrictive convenants still existed elsewhere.