Four Chinese nationals living in Florida and a Florida real estate company that primarily serves Chinese-speaking clients have filed a lawsuit jointly to repeal the newly passed SB 264, which is referred to as "Florida's New Alien Land Law" in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allege that the law is discriminatory and that it stokes racial biases against Chinese Americans and undermines their financial freedom. Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law on May 8 and it is set to go into effect on July 1.
It will prohibit Florida governmental entities from contracting with "foreign countries of concern'' and prohibit entities and citizens of those countries from acquiring agricultural lands and other real property.
The countries of concern include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.
In addition, Chinese citizens alone are singled out to be more restricted. Chinese citizens with non-tourist visas are only allowed to acquire one single real property smaller than 2 acres that is at least 5 miles from military installations or 10 miles from critical infrastructures.
It will be a felony for Chinese people to buy property in restricted areas or for any person or real estate company to knowingly sell to restricted people. For the other targeted nations, the penalty is a misdemeanor for buyers and sellers.
The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance (CALDA).
The lawsuit — Shen vs Simpson, filed in US District Court in Tallahassee — requested the court to declare the law unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment because it violates plaintiffs' rights to equal protection and procedural due process, and their rights under the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit also claims that the new law is preempted by federal law.
The new law imposes discriminatory prohibitions on the ownership and purchase of real property based on race, ethnicity, alienage and national origin — and imposes especially draconian restrictions on people from China, the lawsuit said.
Under the law, the plaintiffs "will be forced to cancel purchases of new homes, register their existing properties with the state under threat of severe penalties, and face the loss of significant business. The law stigmatizes them and their communities and casts a cloud of suspicion over anyone of Chinese descent who seeks to buy property in Florida," the suit claims.
Plaintiff Liu Yongxin, an assistant professor at a Florida university on a working visa, owns a home near Daytona Beach. Not only is he required to register his property with the Florida Economic Opportunity Department under the new law, but he also won't be able to buy a second property for his parents in Pelican Bay as planned, according to the lawsuit.
Another plaintiff, Xu Zhiming, has already signed a contract to buy a home near Orlando and expected to close the deal in September. However, the property appears to be located within 10 miles of a critical infrastructure facility. The new law would force Xu to cancel the contract and lose all or part of his $31,250 deposit.
Plaintiff Multi-Choice Realty LLC primarily serves Chinese-speaking clients and stands to lose more than one-third of its business due to the law, said the lawsuit.
"The swathes of land now off-limits to Chinese persons under Florida's New Alien Land Law are extensive," said the lawsuit. The prohibitions on property purchases within 10 miles of a "critical infrastructure facility" or five miles of a "military installation" covers immense portions of Florida, including many densely populated and developed areas.
The law "will have the net effect of creating 'Chinese exclusion zones'", said the lawsuit.