Danville Landlord Ordered To Pay $25,000 For Housing Discrimination
By Whitney Delbridge
Danville, VA - What started out as a seemingly innocent ad for a rental home, ended with offensive results for a Danville woman.In September, Shawnda Watkins reached out to John Matthews III about renting a trailer from him, but she says he told her it was already taken.Minutes later, the woman had a friend - who is white - ask about the same property and she says Matthews offered it to her readily."We thought that it was a terrible set of circumstances that had occurred, " said attorney Steven Gould.Watkins had been trying to rent one of John Matthews' trailers in Caswell County. Gould says when she called him out on lying to her about the property, Matthews said he could rent to whomever he wanted, but that's not exactly true."The fair housing act says that if you rent a certain number of units or homes to the public then you are not able to discriminate based on the categories of race and sex and religion, " When Housing Opportunities Made Equal learned about the situation they decided to set up a blind test.They used trained decoys to call Matthews with similar backgrounds - but one was black and one was white. What they found shocked them."Often it's very hard to detect, but in this case it was very clear, " said HOME's VA President and CEO Heather Crislip.According to court records, Matthews discouraged the black potential applicant, even using the n-word to describe some previous tenants.HOME filed a lawsuit against Matthews and won $25,000 in damages. Watkins is still in pending litigation.Matthews could not be reached for comment, but Gould and HOME leaders say they are glad to see justice served."It gives us the opportunity to talk about fair housing but it is disappointing that this kind of racial discrimination still goes on, " said Crislip."We need to do everything we can to send a message to folks that that's just not going to be permitted to stand in our community, " Gould said.HOME plans to use the $25,000 they were awarded to continue educating the community on fair housing rights and practices.
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