A Cincinnati woman is suing her landlord, claiming he violated her civil rights by demanding she move out of the property because of her race.
Her lawyers say there are voicemails and text messages proving the landlord wanted her gone, not because she is a bad tenant but because she is Black.
The landlord denies these claims. He says he just wanted the woman and her family evicted because they trashed the home. He also told WCPO that someone was impersonating him, a claim, he says, he can prove.
Dermisha Pickett, the mother of six, hired civil rights lawyer Fanon Rucker to file a racial discrimination counterclaim against Sergey Briskman, the owner of the home the family has rented for eight years. She says she has never missed a rental payment nor has been late paying her rent to any of the various owners of the house.
Briskman purchased the house in 2020 from another owner, who allowed the property to go into foreclosure. Pickett, who is disabled, moved into the home in September 2014 and has been raising her family there since. She started having issues with her new landlord in January 2021, the lawsuit alleges. He started “suggesting he no longer wanted her living at the property.”
This came to a head in January 2023 when the house needed to be inspected as a part of the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).
The Section 8 program requires any needed repairs to be fixed in order for the landlord to continue to receive payments through the federal program that covers a portion of the tenant’s rent based on income.
“I’m not fixing anything until you leave the house so I will make sure it doesn’t pass inspection on the 2/15,” the complaint says he wrote in a text message.
The lawsuit alleges the landlord told her on multiple occasions he did not want a Black family living on his Hamilton County property anymore.
“I told you I’m not getting anything the inspection will fail because I’m not fixing anything or doing anything until you are gone but I told you I want you gone I will not rent African Americans again I don’t know why the previous landlord did sorry I hope you found your place so please stop texting me,” a Feb. 10 message reportedly says.
Briskman in another text on Feb. 15 reportedly wrote: “It’s nothing against you I will just rather put a white family in this unit You did nothing wrong I just don’t want a family of color here maybe you should try to go to a shelter.”
Briskman also tells the tenant in the text messages that he would call the police to get her out if she doesn’t move.
Pickett did have difficulty finding a new home that was the same size and cost and was as safe, according to the complaint. She also has a child who requires regular medical attention, so Pickett couldn’t move too far away. The mother asked the landlord for additional time to find housing, but he posted a three-day “notice to vacate” on her door on March 3 instead.
The tenant found a new home in a less-safe neighborhood on March 9, but she would not be able to move into the property until another three weeks. Pickett asked Briskman if she could pay him a prorated amount to continue to stay in the home until her new place was ready, but he refused and told her to “go stay in a hotel.” He filed an eviction notice that day, the lawsuit says.
In a March 13 voicemail, Briskman said he was trying to sell the house” and needed her to hurry up and give in the keys before again reminding her “I don’t want any African Americans” in the home.
The lawsuit accuses Briskman of discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violating housing laws. The eviction claim also puts Pickett at risk of losing her housing assistance, the lawsuit says.
“My initial thoughts are really four words — are you kidding me,” said Rucker, Pickett’s attorney. “This lawsuit, and the evidence that we have in this lawsuit, completely dispels whoever may be misled in believing that people are not still subjected to discriminatory actions by others who are unafraid to be openly racist.”
According to BuzzFeed News, the property owner alleges in his eviction complaint that Pickett was notified to move out within the next 30 days on Jan. 12 because her rental agreement was expired. Pickett said she never received a formal eviction complaint.
Briskman has denied sending the texts or leaving the voicemail messages. He told WPCO that he is not racist, and he has sent his phone data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to prove someone impersonated him. He also expressed confidence that the evidence that he will present in court will clear his name.
A judge will hear the case in an eviction hearing on March 31.