California Couple Who Received Higher Home Appraisal After ‘Whitewashing’ Their Home Wins Settlement
By LawCommentary | Posted on March 17, 2023
real estate appraisal
A California couple who experienced racial discrimination when trying to appraise the value of their home has reached a settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount.
Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin, a Black family living in Marin City, California, made national headlines in 2021 after they shared a perplexing experience involving the appraisal of their home. When the couple enlisted the services of Janette Miller and her realty appraisal firm, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, the couple expected their home to be valued at over a million dollars.
Since purchasing their home in December 2016, the couple did significant renovations including an expansion. After Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers assessed their home, they were shocked to receive a valuation of $995,000.
The couple got creative and decided to have a separate appraiser evaluate their home. Before having the second appraiser come out, the couple removed all evidence that a Black family lived in the house. This included removing family photos, artwork and books depicting African American culture, and other objects that might indicate a Black family lived in the home. The family also asked a white friend to pose as the homeowner, and the couple went as far as putting up family photos of their white friend around their house.
After “White-washing” the home, the couple allowed the second appraisal company to inspect the home and were met with an assessed value of 1,482,500, nearly $500,000 more than the initial appraisal. After receiving the appraisal that more properly reflected the value of their home, the couple filed a housing discrimination lawsuit claiming that they were racially discriminated against and subsequently faced housing discrimination because of their race, a direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Named in the lawsuit were Janette Miller, her realty appraisal company, and the company AMC Links which contracted with Miller to conduct the appraisal. In addition to the out-of-court settlement, the appraiser vowed not to discriminate against other Black homeowners in the future.
Prior to reaching a settlement, Miller and her legal team argued against the racial claims made in the suit. “There is nothing inherently racist about choosing comparable properties that are located in the same city as the Subject Property. Without any direct (or indirect) evidence of actual racial discrimination, Miller’s choice of comparable properties cannot support Plaintiff’s claim of discrimination,” her legal team argued.
After a year of litigation, the couple announced that they reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount with the named defendants. The couple was represented by the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern America. Attorney Julia Howard-Gibbon shared following news of the settlement that “Even decades after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, we still find evidence of housing discrimination fairly often.”
With the effects of discriminatory rental laws like redlining, the rising cost of home ownership, and higher rates of mortgage loan denials for Black applicants as compared to white borrowers, it has historically been more difficult for Black families to realize the American dream of home ownership.
The 1968 Fair Housing Act was one of the most critical pieces of legislation to help undo the damage created by the nation's racist history. Still, Black and brown homeowners are more likely to experience housing discrimination as compared to white Americans. In a recent report by the New York Times, an estimated 45% of black households own their homes whereas over 74% of white households own their homes.
In addition to awarding the couple for the racial discrimination they suffered, the settlement has put a greater spotlight on housing discrimination against Black and brown homeowners and prospective buyers. “Having to erase our identity to get a better appraisal was a wrenching experience,” explained Tenisha Tate-Austin. “The ongoing undervaluation of homes in black neighborhoods perpetuates the wealth gap between black and white families. We hope by bringing attention to our case and this lawsuit settlement, we can help change the way the appraisal industry operates, and we can start to see a different trend.”