The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed a statement of interest in a private discrimination lawsuit where homeowners allegedly received an appraisal nearly $500,000 less than the actual value because they are black .
In 2020, Tenisha Tate-Austin and Paul Austin, a black couple from San Francisco, sought to refinance their home loan.
Janette Miller, a licensed appraiser, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, appraised the couple’s home at $995,000. However, a few weeks later, another appraiser set the home’s value at $1,482,500.
They received the second and highest rating after asking a Caucasian friend to impersonate Tate-Austin.
The couple said Miller used code phrases such as “Marin City is a separate area” when she appraised the property. They said the comments were related to their race and complained to their mortgage lender.
For the second review, they hid photos and artwork with distinctive African-American characteristics and replaced them with those belonging to their white friend.
“We had a conversation with one of our white friends, and she said, ‘No problem. I’ll be Tenisha,'” Tate-Austin told reporters last month. made our home feel like his.
The couple filed a housing fair discrimination lawsuit against Miller and his company, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisers, Inc., and AMC Links, LLC.
Miller and company filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying the couple had not made a claim on which a court could award relief.
“The United States respectfully submits [our] statement to provide insight into the FHA and to address two legal issues raised in the defendants’ motion,” the DOJ said in a statement.
“Defendants assert that the FHA does not apply to residential appraisers. The text of the law and the case law clearly indicate that this is the case. Second, defendants state the elements of a prima facie case and argue that plaintiffs have failed to allege those elements,” the DOJ said.
“But plaintiffs need not allege facts that constitute prima facie evidence at this stage. The law simply requires plaintiffs to allege a plausible right to redress because of defendants’ “discriminatory housing practices.”
Austin said he and Tate-Austin researched the market well and upgraded their home before the first appraisal. “We did our homework,” Austin told the Reparations Task Force during a panel on the racial wealth gap in October.
“We believe the white lady wanted to devalue our property because we are in a black neighborhood and the house was owned by a black family.”
Stacy M. Brown is the Senior National Correspondent for NNPA Newswire