The first appraisal estimated that their Marin County home cost $995,000, while the second time the house was appraised at $1.48m. However, that assessment came when the couple, Paul and Tenisha Austin asked a white friend to act as the house owner. They got rid of anything that would reveal the home was owned by a Black family, like artwork and photographs to help sell the ruse.
“We had a conversation with one of our white friends, and she said. ‘No problem. I’ll be Tenisha. I’ll bring over some pictures of my family.’ She made our home look like it belonged to her,” Tenisha told ABC7 in February.
The Austins are now suing their appraiser, Janette Miller, and her company, Miller and Perotti Real Estate Appraisals. The filing cites the federal Fair Housing Act, saying that it was violated by the appraiser based on the couple’s race. Along with seeking financial damages, the Austins are also requesting that the court order the defendants to never discriminate when appraising houses, as well as a trial with a jury.
The couple bought their home in 2016 for $550,000 and have since made $400,000 in renovations, including new flooring, a new deck, new appliances, and a fireplace.
“Likewise appraisers, including defendants, have continued to use race-based criteria in assessing property value, including limiting comparisons to houses within areas of similar racial demographics and valuing predominantly white areas more highly than other areas,” the complaint said.
It pointed to Marin County’s historical inclination for stereotyping and redlining. The area’s Black residents predominantly live in two census tracts, with one being Marin City.
“We believe the white lady wanted to devalue our property because we are in a black neighborhood, and the home belonged to a black family,” Paul told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I want to see a change. I don’t want to see my children have to deal with this.”