Black Couple Files Lawsuit Over Low Home Appraisal Surging Nearly $300,000 After Trying 'Whitewashing Experiment'

John Hopkins University professor Nathan Connolly and his wife Dr. Shani Mott filed a housing discrimination complaint against loanDepot and 20/20 Valuations.

Scales for lawsuit story from NYT

Image via Getty/iStock

Scales for lawsuit story from NYT

A Black couple is taking legal action after their home appraisal increased nearly $300,000 because of race.

According to the New York Times, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott filed the housing discrimination lawsuit in Maryland District Court on Monday—about a year after they applied to refinance their mortgage with loanDepot. Connolly, a professor at John Hopkins University, says he and his wife purchased the Baltimore home for $450,000 in 2017, and have since completed renovations worth more than $35,000. Furthermore, Baltimore house values have surged 42 percent over the past five years, which is why the two were shocked to learn Maryland-based 20/20 Valuations had valued their home at just $472,000. As a result, mortgage lender loanDepot denied the pair’s refinance loan. 

Connolly and Mott said they challenged the appraisal, but the loan officer stopped responding to their calls. The initial inspection was conducted by 20/20 Valuations owner Shane Lanham in June of last year.

“Dr. Connolly, Dr. Mott, and their three children were home during the visit, and their house was also filled with family photos, children’s drawings of figures with dark skin, a poster for the film Black Panther and literature by Black authors,” the lawsuit reads. “It would have been obvious to anyone visiting that the home belonged to a Black family.”

A Black professor who studies housing discrimination had his home estimated to be worth $472K. A mortgage lender then denied a refinance loan

After he and his wife removed any indications that Black people lived there, a 2nd appraiser valued it at $750K

— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) August 18, 2022

Months after the initial appraisal, Connolly and Mott reapplied for a loan, but tried what the suit calls a “whitewashing experiment,” removing indicators their race and giving the impression a white family resided there. “They cleared their bookshelves of works by Black authors. They asked white friends to share family photos and placed those in picture frames around the house; on their walls, they hung art bought at Ikea that showed white people,” the Times reports. The couple also recruited a white colleague to stand in for them during the appraisal.

Once the inspection was completed, the second appraiser valued their home at $750,000.

Connolly teaches the history of American redlining, the discriminatory practice in which lenders target people of color with unfair terms. In many cases, racial minorities are refused loans because “they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.” 

“We were clearly aware of appraisal discrimination,” Connolly said. “But to be told in so many words that our presence and the life we’ve built in our home brings the property value down? It’s an absolute gut punch.”

The suit—which lists loanDepot, 20/20 Valuations, and Lanham as defendants—states the first appraiser incorrectly stated the couple’s home had not been updated in 15 years. It also accuses Lanham of cherry-picking “low-value homes as comps” as well as ignoring “legitimately comparable homes with much higher sales prices.”

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