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Couple says they can't sell their Yaphank home because of Hitler-era restrictions

An undated photo at Camp Siegfried in Yaphank

An undated photo at Camp Siegfried in Yaphank shows the swastika and the salute, familiar Nazi symbols, on display. In a federal lawsuit on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, a Yaphank couple said that discriminatory covenant restrictions of the German-American Settlement League, which owns the former camp site, have prevented them from selling their home. Credit: UPI

A Yaphank couple has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that discriminatory covenant restrictions at a community founded during the 1930s by adherents of Adolf Hitler have prevented them from selling their home.

Philip Kneer and his wife, Patricia Flynn-Kneer, said in court papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that the bylaws of the German-American Settlement League, which owns the land in Yaphank formerly known as Camp Siegfried, restrict home ownership to residents who are "primarily . . . of German extraction."

The lawsuit says the league's bylaws also required the Kneers to advertise the house through printed materials circulated only to league members.

The suit, first reported by The New York Times, asks a federal judge to award unspecified damages to the Kneers and Long Island Housing Services Inc., a Bohemia-based nonprofit that joined the suit on the Kneers' behalf.

The Kneers could not be reached for comment. Their attorney, Diane Houk of Manhattan, said the couple had moved from their home last week but would not say where they live.

A spokeswoman for Long Island Housing Services referred calls to Houk, who said the Settlement League should rescind the bylaws. Houk also said her clients own their house and rent the land from the league. "After decades, they haven't changed their bylaws to not discriminate, and that's what this case is all about," she said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Settlement League president Robert Kessler declined to comment Tuesday.

The neighborhood, which consists of about 50 homes, was founded as a summer camp to support the German Nazi Party several years before the outbreak of World War II. It later became a year-round community with streets originally named for Hitler and other German leaders such as Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering. The street names have since been changed.

The suit says the Kneers, who bought their house in 1999, have tried unsuccessfully to sell their home for six years. The Kneers, both of whom are part-German, say the bylaws were last updated in May 1998.

County Executive Steve Bellone said the restrictions appear to be "antiquated" and probably violate county laws barring housing discrimination.

"I certainly wasn't aware that that exists," Bellone said of the community's restrictive covenants. "Housing discrimination is something we're very concerned about. There's no basis . . . for housing discrimination."

Hempstead civil rights lawyer Frederick K. Brewington said private homeowners associations usually can enforce their own rules, but they may not discriminate on the basis of race, gender or national origin.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the nonprofit that is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.


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