Marin City couple settle racial discrimination lawsuit against real estate appraiser

A Marin City couple claiming racial bias by an appraiser resulted in their home be under valued has announced final settlement of their discrimination lawsuit.

No financial terms were disclosed in the deal in which Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin dropped their lawsuit — planned for trial this fall — against appraiser Janette Miller and her San Rafael company, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisals Inc. The case was filed by the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.

The appraiser has previously denied all of the lawsuit claims. But the advocacy group’s attorney, Julia Howard-Gibbon, stated, “…the appraiser agrees not to discriminate in the future, will watch the ABC documentary ‘Our America: Lowballed’ (which features the Austins’ story); attend a training session regarding the history of segregation and real estate-related discrimination in Marin County provided by FHANC; and continue to abide by the Bureau of Real Estate Appraisers’ continuing education requirements, including those outlined in California’s AB 948.“

According to the December 2021 complaint, the Miller’s appraisal of the home was based on the race of the couple, who are Black, and Marin City neighborhood. The couple bought a Pacheco Street home in Marin City for $550,000 in December 2016 and refinanced it in 2020 and sought out an appraisal of their home.

Miller valued the home at $995,000. The couple thought that was low and had another appraiser evaluate it. But first, they removed indications of the racial background of the owners. That valuation came in $1.48 million, close to the median market value for Marin at the time, court documents said.

Stated Caroline Peattie, FHANC’s Executive Director, “The Austins’ case was a dramatic example of how an unfairly low appraisal can affect your ability to access a loan with good terms and build generational wealth. Unfortunately, their experience is not unique. Studies show that Black and Latinx applicants are more likely than white applicants to receive an appraisal value lower in both the sales and refinancing process. These studies show that appraisers choose so-called comparable properties (“comps”) of other property sales located substantially closer to the property being appraised if it’s located in a predominantly Black or Latinx census tract than if it’s located in a predominantly white census tract, even if those closer properties are not at all comparable – so appraisers likely still view neighborhoods and relevant comps based on racial demographics, which is part of what what we believe happened in the Austins’ case.”

In the Sunday evening announcement that the couple had agreed to a settle, Tenisha Tate-Austin stated, “We missed out on a better interest rate because of the unfair appraisal we received. Having to erase our identity to get a better appraisal was a wrenching experience. We know of other Black families who either couldn’t get a loan because of a discriminatory appraisal and therefore either lost the opportunity to buy or sell a home, or they had to sell their home because they had an unaffordable loan.”

In October, the nonprofit housing group announced a settlement deal with defendant AMC Links LLC, a Utah-based appraisal management company.

This is a developing seeking comment from the defendant in the lawsuit.

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