Legislature should change Florida real estate law that unfairly targets Chinese citizens | Opinion – South Florida Sun Sentinel

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Zhiming Xu is a Chinese citizen who fled political persecution in China to seek safety in the United States. He entered the U.S. on a tourist visa and immediately applied for political asylum. Since leaving China, Xu has settled down in the U.S. and planted roots, living right here in Florida for the past four years. Xu is not affiliated with the Chinese government. He is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He has a bachelor’s degree and a job managing rental properties in Florida. In addition, he is a homeowner and recently signed a contract to buy a second home near Orlando. All in all, Xu is a prime example of the many immigrant success stories in Florida.

Now, Xu is being blocked by the state of Florida from purchasing his home due to his Chinese origin. Not only will he be unable to buy this home, but he also stands to lose the $31,250 deposit he put down on the home if the real estate contract is cancelled under SB 264, Florida’s alien land law. Additionally, the law will require Xu to register the property he already owns with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity due to his status as a Chinese national who is not yet a permanent resident of the United States.

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Allison Frison is a second-year law student at Duke University School of Law. (courtesy, Allison Frison)

Signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2023, SB 264 shuts Chinese citizens out of the real estate market by preventing them from buying property in Florida. This law comes at a time at which anti-Chinese rhetoric is at an all-time high, even from DeSantis, who has made being “tough on China” a central theme of his presidential campaign. At the third Republican presidential debate in November, DeSantis boasted, “I banned China from buying land in the state of Florida.” While this ban is clearly an attempt to boost his declining popularity in the polls, it comes at a major cost to Chinese people living in Florida. As argued by Xu and three other Chinese citizens in a lawsuit filed against the state of Florida, SB 264 “stigmatizes them and their communities, and casts a cloud of suspicion over anyone of Chinese descent who seeks to buy property in Florida.”

Specifically, SB 264 prohibits “foreign principals” from “countries of concern” from acquiring interest in agricultural land or land within ten miles “of any military installation or critical infrastructure in the state.” Even more restrictively, it specifically prevents Chinese foreign principals from purchasing any real estate in Florida, with limited exceptions. Foreign principals are defined as people from countries of concern who are not yet citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Countries of concern include China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

At its core, SB 264 shuts a certain group of people out of the real estate market because of their national origin. The law claims to protect Floridians against national security threats posed by China, but it does so by attacking individuals like Xu that pose no threat at all. Even the narrow exception to the law casts a broad net by only allowing certain “foreign principals” to buy a single residential property. This property must be under two acres and not within five miles of any military installation in Florida. However, there are more than 20 military bases in Florida, and many of them are very close to heavily populated cities like Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. Because of this, even those that fall within this narrow exception will almost certainly have difficulty buying property in Florida.

Additionally, SB 264 unfairly creates suspicion and disdain surrounding Chinese people living in Florida. It forces Chinese nationals to register their properties with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. This procedural hurdle is burdensome and unnecessary. It is stigmatizing to force those of a specific national origin to register their properties with the government. In addition to registration requirements, SB 264 also imposes criminal penalties on those that sell property in violation of the law. The unavoidable consequence of this is that some people will discriminate against all Chinese buyers in fear of criminal penalties.

Unfortunately, these land ownership restrictions are not confined to Florida. Other states have proposed similar laws affecting people of Chinese descent. However, given that the spotlight is currently on Florida for this issue, I encourage Floridians to capitalize upon this opportunity. I urge readers to contact their lawmakers. With the 2024 legislative session now underway, legislators are looking at repealing many laws that had passed under previous Republican majorities, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education reforms and mail-in voting laws passed after the controversial 2000 election. They should also revisit more-recent issues and consider significant changes to this law that hurts residents based solely on their nationality.

Allison Frison, of Davie, is a second-year law student at Duke University School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree in English and political science, with a concentration in international relations, from Williams College. 

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