Landlord pays $100,000 to settle national origin claims

Southern California Housing Rights Center 
520 S. Virgil Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Contact:  Gary Rhoades, Litigation Director 
213/387-8400

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(LOS ANGELES, December 20, 2002)—The Housing Rights Center and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles announced that the owner of a rental house has paid $100,000 to her tenants under a Consent Decree to settle claims of national origin discrimination. 

A family of Bulgarian political asylees living in Granada Hills, California sued their landlord and property manager in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging their property manager put Nazi symbols on their bills, their money, and on large signs posted around their property. The complaint also stated that the property manager put a sign outside their window stating, “F--- Off, Rat,” and signed it “American SS.” This sign appeared just after the manager learned the family reported his previous “SS” markings to the landlord. The manager himself lived next door to the family in the only other rental unit owned by the landlord.

The meaning of the “SS” symbol was one of the issues in debate, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Gary Rhoades. “On the one hand, the property manager admitted in his deposition that for him the “SS” symbol was a “white pride” symbol,” said Rhoades. “On the other hand, he tried to minimize it by saying it was just like, ‘you know, like black pride and brown pride’ which is a meaning different from what our clients had learned about the symbol while living in Bulgaria.”

The Housing Rights Center asked an expert from the Anti-Defamation League to review the photographs and envelopes, and then inform the parties and court of the “SS” symbol’s historical and contemporary meanings. Dr. Keith Akins, an investigative researcher who completed a three-year ethnographic study of white supremacy in American, which included living among skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members, and militia members, wrote in his expert declaration:

“The SS “lightning bolts” symbol which appears in almost all of the photographs is a Nazi symbol signifying the Schutzstaffel (SS), Heinrich Himmler’s police forces, whose members ranged from agents of the Gestapo to soldiers of the Waffen SS to the guards at concentration and death camps.”

“The symbol is not merely representative of so-called “white pride.” It is used to instill fear in minorities, particularly Jews and immigrants from Eastern Europe who are most familiar with its history and meaning. White supremacists use it to threaten and terrorize people they consider inferior and unwanted.”

“Ultimately it is intended as a symbol of murder and genocide.”

Along with paying $100,000, the defendants will permanently leave the rental business. 

The plaintiffs were represented by Gary Rhoades, Director of Litigation at the Housing Rights Center and Rocio Garcia, David Pallack and Min Chang from Neighborhood Legal Service of Los Angeles.