Judge Keeps Florida’s Ban on Chinese Real Estate Investment, For Now

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A Tallahassee judge ruled Tuesday that a Florida law barring Chinese internationals from buying property in the state can remain in place while it’s being challenged in federal court.

The law, passed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, restricts people from seven countries, including China, Russia and Cuba, from buying or owning certain properties in Florida, particularly near military sites and critical infrastructure, with the strictest rules reserved for Chinese individuals.

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In response, a group of Chinese people living in Florida filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law in late May. They argued that it is unconstitutional and violates federal fair housing laws.

“Florida’s discriminatory property law is unfair, unjustified and unconstitutional,” said Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing the plaintiffs. “Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries.”

In particular, the law prohibits individuals who are not green card holders from owning buildings or land in Florida directly or indirectly, while restricting most citizens from Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea (which fall under the definition of a “foreign country of concern”) from owning property within 10 miles of military sites or critical infrastructure, such as a power plant or airport. People from the targeted countries who already own land in Florida are grandfathered in, but they must register their property with the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. 

In July, District Judge Allen Winsor heard arguments on the case, Shen v. Simpson, to decide whether he should block the implementation of the law while the challenge works its way through the courts. The judge ultimately denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction Tuesday, arguing that they did not demonstrate a “substantial likelihood” that they would win on the merits.

The plaintiffs include four Chinese individuals and real estate brokerage Multi Choice Realty.

DeSantis, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, has said the rule will protect U.S. citizens from Chinese influence. It is part of a broader anti-China crackdown that has formed a plank of his presidential campaign. 

In addition to opposition from groups who say the law is discriminatory, business interests have also found the law problematic. In fact, DeSantis mega-donor Ken Griffin had a hand in reshaping the law to make it less restrictive for people with work permits, according to a Bloomberg investigation. 

“Florida is defined by its promise of freedom and economic opportunity, and our state government must continue to reflect and uphold these ideals,” Griffin wrote in a statement to Bloomberg. “We support the freedom of individuals who are lawfully working in the U.S. to purchase homes, and we will continue to advocate for those rights.”

Chava Gourarie can be reached at cgourarie@commercialobserver.com.