Real Estate & Property Law

Suit challenges landowner covenants requiring homeowners to be primarily 'of German extraction'

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A couple in Yaphank, New York, is suing the community group that owns the land beneath their house over a bylaw that requires homeowners to be primarily “of German extraction” and restricts marketing of the homes.

Homeowners Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer filed suit on Monday in federal court over the covenants of the landowners, the German American Settlement League, the New York Times reports. The suit claims violations of the Fair Housing Act.

According to the Times, “the persistence of such covenants, decades after the Fair Housing Act was passed, is a reminder of how deeply discrimination was embedded in the nation’s real estate industry, and how the ghosts of that past linger in the homes of today.”

The couple says the covenants bar them from advertising their home on the open market and from putting up a for-sale sign.

According to the Times, the settlement league is a co-op of sorts that collectively owns the land and allows members to own homes. The league was formed in the 1930s by Nazi sympathizers. After World War II, the land was seized by the federal government, but the settlement league regained the land after “legal wrangling,” the Times says.

Robert Kessler, president of the settlement league, told the Times the rules should be changed to allow more freedom to sell homes but rule changes had previously been voted down. Those who apply to own homes in the neighborhood are no longer asked about their ethnic backgrounds, he said. It’s “just not true” that the neighborhood is closed to non-Germans, he told the Times.

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