N.J. may punish those who discriminate when making home appraisals

Real estate appraisers in New Jersey would face penalties for discriminating against a homeowner, buyer, or their agents because of their race or nationality under a proposal state lawmakers began advancing this week.

Under the bill (S777) appraisers who are found to lower a house’s appraisal because of race, color, creed, or national origin could have their licenses, certifications, or registrations revoked or suspended or be subject to fines. It would be up to the New Jersey Real Estate Appraiser Board to determine if actions are discriminatory.

Sponsors say the Democratic-sponsored measure — which cleared the state Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee 4-0 on Thursday — aims to help cut down on New Jersey’s steep racial gaps in wealth and homeownership.

A recent report by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice found 75.9% of white households own homes in the Garden State, compared to 38.4% of Black households. The report said that inequity in home ownership is a key driver of the racial wealth gap in the state.

Meanwhile, Andrea McChristen, the institute’s law and policy director, told the Senate panel that homes in municipalities with majority Black populations in New Jersey have less than half the media value overall and this bill would hold appraisers accountable.

“Sadly, housing appraisal discrimination remains alive and well in New Jersey and elsewhere,” said state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, a main sponsor of the legislation.

Renee Koubiadis, director of New Jersey Citizen Action’s anti-poverty program, told the committee discrimination will continue to “rob Black and brown New Jerseyans of intergenerational wealth through homeownership without strong legislation.”

A low appraisal can undercut the sale price of a home. Junea Williams-Edmund, an attorney from Newark, told the committee a buyer offered $240,000 for her home, but the appraisal was $195,000. She said they settled on a $217,000 price.

“My realtor had previously warned me that there were what he called ‘funky things’ happening with the appraisals in Newark at that time,” Williams-Edmund said.

Three Democrats and one Republican voted to approve the bill. State Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, abstained, saying she was bothered the bill was amended to make suspension mandatory with no discretion and removed language that the discrimination was knowing.

She said it’s “pretty draconian” to revoke or suspend a license for simply a claim of discrimination and that violators should simply face a fine.

“If we’re just jumping in with something that is so draconian on day one, that eliminates knowing standards, that really doesn’t spell out due process in this, that has a mandatory suspension of license, are we going to potentially have no appraisals taking place in the very communities where we’re trying to make appraisals fair?” Schepisi, an attorney, asked.

A similar bill stalled in the last legislative session.

The measure must pass the full Senate and Assembly — both of which are controlled by Democrats — before Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, could decide whether to sign it into law.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsb01.

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