CA landlord pays $100K after manager draws Nazi symbols to intimidate Bulgarian family

The Housing Rights Center and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles helped broker a $100,000 settlement of a national origin discrimination lawsuit between the owner of a rental house and her tenants. Along with paying $100,000, the defendants will permanently leave the rental housing business. The consent decree was approved in February 2003.

Manager made threatening sign with words “American SS” and drew Nazi symbol on items

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 manager had reportedly marked all of his tools with the “SS” symbol, and wrote “foreign persons” on a 20-dollar bill that he gave to the family as change from a utility bill. The complaint also stated that the property manager put a sign outside their window stating, “F— Off, Rat,” and signed it “American SS.” The sign appeared after the manager learned the family reported other “SS” markings to the landlord. The manager 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 manager claimed that he had learned about the double lightning bolt symbol while he was serving time in prison.

Expert testimony refutes notion that lightning bolts symbol is merely a symbol of “white pride”

The Housing Rights Center asked an expert from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) 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 America, 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 camps.”

According to Dr. Akins, the SS 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.

A symbol of “murder and genocide”

“Ultimately it is intended as a symbol of murder and genocide,” said Dr. Akins in his sworn declaration.

The ADL has compiled numerous symbols of hate and intimidation on its web site at
www.adl.org/hate_symbols/default.asp. The history of each symbol is given as well as its
modern usage by hate groups in the United States and elsewhere.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination and intimidation on the basis of
national origin. Graffiti and hate symbols have long been viewed by courts to be forms of intimidation in cases of racial, national origin, and religious discrimination.

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. To obtain more information about this case, or to report housing discrimination in southern California, contact the Housing Rights Center at 1-800-477-5977. The parties in this case agreed to keep their names private.

Case No. 02-CV-5459-SVW (C.D. Cal. )
The Honorable Stephen V. Wilson, U.S. District Judge
Complaint filed: 2002
Settlement reached : December 2002
Consent Order approved by Court: February 2003