In the past year, and especially since early November, hate-related attacks, vandalism, and threats have surged in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that 1,094 hate-related incidents of harassment or intimidation occurred in the month following Election Day – 125 of them in California. (These are only the reported numbers; by all accounts, hate crimes are far under-reported.)
The reports range from Latino schoolchildren threatened with fake deportation notices, to Muslim-owned restaurants being vandalized, to assaults on Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, and women. Each incident included a message of hate based on race, national origin, religion, or gender. Some were based on the unfounded idea that people from certain countries or religions must have ties to terrorism.
With regard to Santa Monica tenants, the City Attorney’s Office enforces the fair housing and anti-harassment laws that protect us from such conduct.
The fair housing laws prohibit owners from treating tenants (or applicants) differently because of their race, national origin, religion or gender. Almost fifty years after the first fair housing laws were passed in 1968, it’s rare for a landlord to express aloud their discriminatory motives.
However, owners have used indirect ways to discriminate. Some have claimed that security concerns let them treat tenants from other countries differently. In 2003, local real estate magnate Donald Sterling demanded that his tenants fill out new applications for garage keys, on which they had to reveal their country of origin. Sterling claimed it was a national security matter. But a federal court ruled that tenants’ fair housing rights trump the owner’s unproven fears. The court barred Sterling’s application.
California has also passed anti-hate crimes laws. The Bane Civil Rights Act protects people from violence or the threats based on race, religion, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability. The Ralph Act addresses the problem of hate-based violence by providing remedies for those who are victims of violence or property damage.
One example of an implied threat involved a Los Angeles family of Bulgarian political asylum-seekers who won a lawsuit against their landlord after the manager put Nazi symbols on their bills, their money, and on large signs posted around their property.
The manager—a member of a “white power” group–admitted in his deposition that he wrote “foreign persons” on a 20-dollar bill he gave to the family as change from a utility bill. He also admitted to putting a sign outside their window stating, “F— Off, Rat,” and signing it “American SS.” The sign appeared after the manager learned the family reported other “SS” markings to the landlord and the family reasonably interpreted the sign as a threat. The “SS” symbols are commonly used by white supremacists to threaten and terrorize people they consider inferior and unwanted.
The tenants reported the conduct, filed a lawsuit, and got a federal court order for $100,000 in damages. The manager was fired.
To report any discrimination or hate-related harassment, contact the City Attorney’s Office at (310) 458-8336.
The City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division enforces the law and educates the public about tenants’ rights, fair housing, consumer protection, and other issues. They can be reached at 310-458-8336 or smconsumer.org.