A real estate appraiser who was sued for alleged housing discrimination based on race has settled with a Marin City couple, their attorneys announced this week.
Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin are a Black couple with children who filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2021 against Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisals, a company based out of San Rafael. The Austins alleged that appraiser Janette Miller grossly undervalued their property when they were getting ready to try to refinance their mortgage.
The Austins purchased a 1,248-square-foot home in unincorporated Marin City near Sausalito in 2016 for $550,000. According to their claim, the pair invested substantially in upgrading and expanding their house. They refinished the floors, moved walls, added a gas fireplace and a half bath, upgraded appliances and fixtures, and added on at least 270 square feet. They were also in the process of building an accessory dwelling unit.
After all of the improvements, the Austins wanted to refinance their mortgage and needed an appraisal, their attorneys said.
In January 2020, Miller appraised their home for $995,000, far below what they expected.
"The Austins believe that their race and the racial demographics of Marin City played a role in the low estimate of value," said a spokesperson for the nonprofit Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC), which represented the family.
Suspicious, they reached out to a different company and scheduled a new appraisal. This time the Austins took down photos of their family and African American art from their house. They also had a white friend put up pictures of her white family and greet the appraiser at the door, the claim said.
The second appraisal reported an estimated value of their house at $1,482,500, nearly a half-million more than the first.
The Austins have settled with Miller and Perotti for an undisclosed amount of money, with additional terms. First, the company agrees not to discriminate in the future, FHANC said. The company also agreed to watch a documentary about housing discrimination and attend a training session about the history of segregation and real estate discrimination in Marin County.
"This is a landmark case," said Caroline Peattie, executive director of FHANC. "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."
Tenisha Tate-Austin said that having to erase her identity in order to get a better appraisal was a wrenching experience.
"Neighborhoods of color have been historically undervalued due to deliberate racist housing policies, such as redlining," she said in a statement released by FHANC. "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."
Janette Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
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