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The Virginia Attorney General’s Office is suing a Newport News landlord for $ 8 million for his alleged ‘horrible treatment’ of black tenants, through a targeted campaign of ‘abusive, racist and sexist’ behavior.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Newport News Circuit Court by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, alleges that David Lee Merryman subjected large numbers of inmates to ‘shocking’ and ‘egregious’ examples of discrimination, and including complete physical abuse, which only came to light after an extensive investigation by the state Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Herring alleges that Merryman routinely harassed, threatened and refused critical repairs for tenants, because of their race and gender, and attacked a woman when he requested such repairs.
In a disturbing case detailed in the complaint, the Virginia landlord even threatened the life of a black tenant and her children, prompting the tenant to obtain a restraining order against her.wikipedia
“He was definitely a landlord from hell,” one tenant told The Daily Beast.
Herring is now demanding that Merryman, 56, immediately pay at least $ 8 million in compensation to these tenants, for their “willful, lewd and blatant pattern and practice of discriminatory behavior.”
The criminal complaint alleges that Merryman often promised tenants, usually black women with children and with government assistance, to repair properties once they moved in, and would subject them to threats of violence and racial slurs when asked to comply. his word.
Once tenants signed a lease, Merryman routinely left them to live in third world conditions, Herring’s complaint alleges.
Merryman’s properties would often be plagued with plumbing leaks, sewer problems, structural problems and a lack of “kitchen basics,” the lawsuit notes.
What’s more, the houses were even plagued by “electrical problems that have caused fires.”
In some cases, the tenants paid for these repairs out of their own pockets, according to the filing.
In many other cases, however, tenants were forced to move out of Merryman’s properties when faced with such conditions, the lawsuit claims.
Tenants have called police “dozens of times … asking Merryman for protection,” the complaint also states.
He adds that Merryman once physically assaulted a tenant who was requesting repairs, and others had to hold him when she said, ‘Leave me on that bitch.
When that tenant was receiving a protective order against Merryman, the complaint says, he removed “all of his possessions” from the property.
Other times, the lawsuit says, Merryman had tenants’ cars towed or entered their homes, a direct violation of US landlord-tenant law.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring
The complaint then adds that when asked to make these repairs, Merryman often threatened these women with physical violence or scolded them for the color of their skin.
“ Tenant requests for repairs are often faced with threats of violence, insults, and other forms of retaliation, ” the filing testifies, adding that city officials and police reports “ corroborate the abusive conduct of Merryman to his black and female tenants. ”
Merryman ‘carries out this pattern and practice of discrimination in housing by using racial and gender-based epithets against his tenants in a campaign to demote them, all while upholding the fact that he controls whether they have a roof over his head ‘, Herring’s Thursday presentation then states.wikipedia
The racially charged language used by the owner, the complaint maintains, has included the N word and urging inmates to “return to Africa.”
Other examples of derogatory defamation by Merryman of his tenants include stereotypical and slanderous statements such as, ‘this is how black people act’ or, ‘like any other black man,’ the filing adds.
What’s more, when the few white tenants living in Merryman’s properties chased down the tenant to ask about the miserable living conditions, the landlord informed them that they were ‘acting black’.
Merryman also used racial and gender slurs on city employees tasked with inspecting his properties for code compliance after receiving a multitude of complaints, the complaint says.
“ Everyone deserves to live in safe and healthy housing without fear of harassment or discrimination by the landlord, ” Herring said in a press release last week, stating that Merryman ‘took advantage’ of his tenants because of their financial situation and his race.
“I will never tolerate discriminatory landlords in Virginia, and my heart goes out to the tenants who endured this alleged disgusting behavior.”
Herring’s lawsuit asks Merryman to pay $ 6 million to reimburse tenants for the alleged discrimination cases and another $ 2 million in compensatory damages.
In addition, he asks Merryman to pay an additional $ 50,000 for each proven allegation of housing discrimination, so if he is found guilty, Merryman could be fined well in excess of the already astronomical $ 8 million.
The complaint also calls for the “ victims of Merryman’s illegal discriminatory housing practices ” to be financially reimbursed and for Merryman to be prohibited from continuing to discriminate on the basis of race and sex, in addition to threatening his tenants.
The filing also calls for Merryman to step aside from managing his large number of properties located in Newport News and other nearby communities, requesting that he hire an outside property manager to manage his properties ‘for a reasonable period of time’, at the expense of he. .
Merryman, who hails from nearby Hampton, owns “at least 36 properties” in Newport News and dozens more in the area, according to the lawsuit.
But Merryman argues that he has dozens of eviction hearings scheduled in Newport News General District Court, and says he owes ‘more than $ 1 million’ in back rent from his tenants, and most of that has piled up in recent years. 18 months, during the coronavirus pandemic. .
“It seems very strange that a lawsuit is filed by the Attorney General’s Office four days before dozens of people are legally evicted,” Merryman said Monday in response to the lawsuit filed by Herring last week.
“Of course the tenants are going to be angry,” reasoned the landlord.
He claims that he is currently housing tenants who have not paid their rent in months, “and, in some cases, years.”
In late 2019, Merryman and a Newport News building code official nearly came to blows in a racially charged incident at Newport News City Hall.
Merryman was recording on his cell phone when he approached Code Enforcement Director Harold Lee Roach Jr. on the steps of City Hall, after a telephone discussion between the men days earlier about the expropriation of one of Merryman’s properties. .
As he approached Roach, Merryman ridiculed the city official for using the ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo as a profile picture on his personal Facebook page.
“What’s up? What are you going to do about it,” Merryman scoffed, “Black Lives Matter?”
For the next few minutes, Merryman repeatedly tried to provoke Roach, while the code director tried to goad the noisy owner into hitting him.
“All you have to do is get your hands on me,” Roach warned Merryman. ‘You talked a lot on the phone about what you’re going to do with this black. This black is here. What do you want to do with this black now?
The altercation never turned physical.
Roach was disciplined for the videotaped confrontation, and city records indicated that his pay dropped for about a month starting in January 2020.
David Lee Merryman Quick and Facts
- The suit, filed Thursday by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, says David Merryman subjected boarders to ‘alarming’ and ‘egregious’ discrimination
- Herring alleges that Merryman, 56, routinely harassed, threatened, and refused critical repairs for Black and female renters, because of their race and gender
- Merryman’s properties would often be plagued by plumbing leaks, sewage problems, structural issues, and a lack of ‘basic kitchen elements,’ the suit notes
- Merryman physically assaulted one female tenant requesting repairs, the filing alleges, and had to be held back by others as he said, ‘Let me at that b****’
- The complaint attests that the landlord’s tenants have called police ‘dozens of times… asking for protection from Merryman’
- Herring’s suit asks Merryman pay $6 million to reimburse tenants for the alleged instances of discrimination, and another $2 million for compensatory damages
- it asks that Merryman pay an additional $50,000 for each proven allegation of housing discrimination