A Newport News landlord, David Merryman, 56, has been sued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, for alleged racist and sexist actions against his Black and female tenants.
The first pattern or practice housing discrimination lawsuit, a first case of its kind by Herring, cited harassment, threats and refusal of critical repairs after extensive investigation in breach of the tenants civil rights and protection by law. Last week, Herring, who said this is an important and a big case in Va., filed for $8 million in compensation for alleged ill-treatment of tenants, legal fees and civil penalties. Despite the much assumed protection for tenants, housing advocates hope the lawsuit will be a game changer for low income renters.
“I have known about Merryman for years, and the new lawsuit made me cry particularly because his racist tactics were being put in the spotlight. I am just so happy Virginia is finally taking a stance and saying, you know, we do have a problem,” said Bianca Wilson, a Black community organizer in Hampton.
‘The landlord from hell’ who owns dozens of rental property worth over $5 million in Southeastern Virginia has been detained a number of times in the last 20 years in connection to threats and assaults. Having been named numerous times by local city governments for code violations. Court records also show that he was suspended repeatedly from a local housing authority for broken-down Section 8 rentals.
His Black tenants lamented that he was allegedly abusive saying they should return to Africa as he called them “nig****”. One of his white tenants also purported racist sentiments from Merryman who called her a “nig**** lover” and cautioned her to pay her bills like other white people did.
An advocate at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, Victoria Horrock, said landlords reluctantly waited on state funds and took matters lightly by letting homes progress into bad conditions and creating hostile conditions, thereby forcing tenants out of their premises.
“Often, they get away with these tactics with little punishment,” said Harrock. “The AG’s lawsuit against Merryman is especially satisfying and the tenants affected in the lawsuit are the type of tenants that experience the vast majority of housing issues in the state. To see the attorney general try to protect those tenants and their housing rights is pretty huge.”
Although Merryman failed to respond to the awful things he’s accused of, the lawsuit against him alleges that he leased “substandard” houses to tenants in Newport News, accompanied with unfulfilled promises of making repairs on the homes after they signed their lease and paid their deposits. Herring on the other hand promised he is committed to the protection of Virginian’s rights and fighting discrimination of all kinds in the commonwealth.