Virginia AG files first ‘pattern or practice’ housing discrimination lawsuit against Newport News landlord

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia attorney general has filed the first pattern or practice fair housing lawsuit against a Newport News landlord.

Herring said the lawsuit was filed under the systemic discrimination provision in the Virginia Fair Housing Law. The case was investigated by Herring’s Office of Civil Rights.

According to a news release from Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office, landlord David Merryman allegedly showed “an alarming pattern of abusive, racist, sexist, and otherwise unlawful behavior” toward his tenants, many of whom were Black women and people who used government assistance to pay rent.

The lawsuit, filed in Newport News Circuit Court, alleges Merryman — who owns 36 residential properties in Newport News and dozens more in the region — targeted people he believed were vulnerable. The properties he rented were uninhabitable and he refused to make basic repairs, Herring’s office said.

Herring also alleged Merryman used racial and gender based slurs to harass tenants and officials including:

  • Repeatedly referring to Black tenants as “n****r”
  • Repeatedly referring to his female tenants as “b*****s”
  • Telling Black tenants that they should “go back to Africa”
  • When the few White tenants living in his properties complained about the conditions, he informed them that they were “acting Black”
  • Merryman threatened the lives of a Black, female tenant and that tenant’s minor children, resulting in the tenant obtaining a protective order against him
  • Merryman has used racial and gender-based slurs and epithets with city employees who have attempted to inspect his properties for habitability and compliance with city ordinances requiring the inspection of rental properties

Herring is seeking $8 million in compensation for the tenants, plus civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

“This unscrupulous landlord allegedly preyed on vulnerable renters and assaulted and tormented them with racist and sexist language and conduct. I will never tolerate discriminatory landlords in VA and my heart goes out to the renters who had to endure this alleged behavior,” Herring announced Thursday.

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“Everyone deserves to live in safe, healthy housing without the fear of being harassed or discriminated against by their landlord. This unscrupulous landlord allegedly preyed on vulnerable renters and assaulted and tormented them with racist and sexist language and conduct,” said Herring. “I will never tolerate discriminatory landlords in Virginia and my heart goes out to the renters who had to endure this alleged disgusting behavior. I want to thank my Office of Civil Rights for their hard work on this egregious case and their continued dedication to protecting all Virginians.”

If you believe you have a housing discrimination complaint, please reach out to the Virginia Fair Housing Office to file a complaint at: dpor.virginia.gov/FairHousing or (888) 551-3247.

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