Black Couple Files Discrimination Lawsuit After Lowballed by White Appraiser
*A Black Bay Area couple whose home was undervalued by a white appraiser is now taking legal action claiming discrimination.
We previously reported… Paul and Tenisha Tate Austin said they spent about $400,000 to renovate the 1960s-built home that they purchased in 2016. After the major modifications, they had the house appraised and were stunned by the valuation.
“I read the appraisal, I looked at the number I was like, ‘This is unbelievable’,” Tenisha Austin told ABC7. The Austin’s believe their race played a factor in the appraisal.
The appraiser – an older White woman named Janette Miller of Miller & Perotti appraisers.– used coded language including “Marin City is a distinct area” in her estimate, according to the report. She valued the couple’s home at $989,000, which was only $100,000 more than the previous estimate the couple received before their massive renovations.
“It was a slap in the face,” Austin said.
The couple refused to settle, and after making noise about it to their lender, the Austins were granted a second appraisal. This time, however, they turned to a white friend to assist with the process.
“We had a conversation with one of our white friends, and she said ‘No problem. I’ll be Tenisha. I’ll bring over some pictures of my family,’” Austin said. “She made our home look like it belonged to her.”
Their white privilege experiment worked as the second appraiser valued the home at $1,482,000.
“There are implications to our ability to create generational wealth or passing things on if our houses appraise for 50% less than its value,” said Tate Austin.
“We know discrimination is in nearly every aspect of that home buying process,” said Jessica Lautz, National Association of Realtors vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. “We need to be addressing it as an industry.”
“If we are aware that implicit bias exists in other systems, police, school, why wouldn’t they also exist in the housing market? And then what can we do to you know, fix that?” said Austin.
The Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California filed has a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of the couple.
“Few of these cases happen, but this has been going on for years,” Fair Housing Supervising Attorney Julia Howard-Gibbon told the Business Journal. “Appraisers seem to think they need to stick to the composition of neighborhoods.”
The plaintiffs, which include the advocacy group, seek unspecified damages.
“As a result of the unlawful housing practices of defendants as alleged herein, plaintiffs Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin suffered damages, including loss of financing opportunity in connection with their dwelling, economic losses, emotional distress with attendant physical injuries, and violation of their civil rights,” the legal complaint reads. “In addition, defendants’ discriminatory housing practices result in lower property values in Marin City generally, to the detriment of plaintiffs.”
Per the report, the lawsuit accuses Miller of violating the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which stipulates the following violations: “Making, printing or publishing notices or statements with respect to the sale of a housing accommodation that indicates a preference, limitation or discrimination based on race.”
“We believe that Ms. Miller valued our house at a lower rate because of our race and because of the current and historical racial demographics of where our house is located,” Paul Austin said in a statement. “The sales comps that the appraiser chose to use were unsuitable and were guaranteed to lower the value of our house.”
Hear more from the couple via the YouTube clip above about their experience with systemic racism in the housing market.