Black couple settles lawsuit after alleging discrimination during home appraisal

Their lawsuit claimed the value of the Marin City house owned by Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin skyrocketed after they had a white friend pose as the homeowner.

A Black couple who claimed they were the victims of racial discrimination from a real estate firm during a home appraisal in Northern California has settled their lawsuit.

Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin enlisted Janette Miller and her company, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, to help refinance their mortgage in late 2020. According to NBC News, the plaintiffs’ civil complaint claimed an appraiser estimated that their Marin City house was worth $995,000.

The Austins ultimately requested another appraisal, believing their race affected the estimate they received. The second time, the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California said in a statement, the couple asked a white friend for help, having her pose as the homeowner “with photos of her own family” and removing “any evidence of their racial identities inside their house,” including personal portraits and artwork with African themes.

Black California couple discrimination home appraisal
After Paul Austin (left) and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin (right), had their Marin City, California, home appraised with a white friend pretending to own it, its value increased by nearly 50 percent. The couple has settled a lawsuit against Janette Miller and her company, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, for an undisclosed amount. (Photo: Screenshot/ News Bay Area)

The pair claimed that the second appraisal for the fictitious white homeowner several weeks later came in at $1,482,500, nearly $500,000 more than the amount they initially received.

Supervising Attorney Julia Howard-Gibbon with the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, a group supporting the Austins’ lawsuit, said even though the Fair Housing Act of 1968 has been in effect for decades, they still frequently discover proof of housing discrimination. Despite how unique the Austins’ strategy of a white stand-in appeared to be, Howard-Gibbon said African American real estate circles are familiar with the trick.

“We’ve heard from a lot of Black homeowners and this is kind of a known thing,” she said. “We’ve been hearing that Black homeowners have been doing this for years. They know to take down their family photos and have a white friend stand in for them.”

Although the Marin City homeowners were successful in refinancing their mortgage, interest rates increased during the couple’s wait for a second appraisal, costing them some money, Howard-Gibbon maintained.

In a statement, Tate-Austin described it as a “wrenching experience” to hide their cultural identity to receive a better estimate of their home.

“We know of other Black families who either couldn’t get a loan because of a discriminatory appraisal,” she said, NBC reported, adding that they “either lost the opportunity to buy or sell a home” or were forced to sell because of an unaffordable loan.

The plaintiffs shared that the settlement agreement, which “included an undisclosed monetary amount,” requires Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers to watch the documentary “Our America: Lowballed,” go to a training about the background of racial discrimination in real estate and make a commitment “not to discriminate in the future.”

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