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Interracial couple files housing discrimination lawsuit against Livingston County realtors

Courtesy Verdell and Julie Franklin

Verdell and Julie Franklin had visited their friends on Zukey Lake in Hamburg Township many times over the last ten years, and when a house on the same lake came on the market in September, they were eager to see the property.

It was after their experience viewing the house that they decided to file a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan. Julie is white and Verdell is Black. The lawsuit alleges housing discrimination, and that the real estate agents involved purposefully misled and prevented the Franklins from making an offer on the house because of race, in violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit was filed on Friday.<--break->

Julie Franklin called Mary Kay Ikens of RE/MAX Platinum and asked to schedule a showing of the house. When she came to the house with her husband, Verdell, and their friends who owned a home on the lake, Julie says it was like interacting with a totally different person.

"Yeah, on the phone she was really friendly, then when we got up there, she mostly just spoke to our friends. She didn't speak much to us," says Julie.

The lawsuit states, "During the showing, Ikens demonstrated no interest in the Franklins as potential buyers." The couple says she asked no questions about their occupations or means to purchase a home. They wanted to make an offer as soon as the tour was over, but when they told Ikens, they say she said she had to show another property. When Ikens returned to their friends' house to discuss the offer, Julie says her detached behavior continued.

"Even when she came back, the five of us sat at the table, and she just talked with our friends and didn't have much to say to us at all. Like, didn't even make eye contact, really, with us," she says.

The Franklins say Ikens told them she had spoken with listing agent Rick Beaudin, who she referred to as her boss. She said that their proposed offer of $300,000 would not be considered, even though they were willing to make a higher offer. The Franklins say Ikens said this was because the homeowner was only accepting all-cash offers of $350,000, with the house as-is, no inspection. According to the lawsuit, none of these stipulations were mentioned in the listing. After Ikens dissuaded them, the Franklins decided not to make an offer.

Julie periodically checked in on the listing, and says it was listed as "pending offer" for nearly all of September and October. On October 28, the house was listed as "sold," and the selling price was $300,000 — the same offer the Franklins had wanted to make at the beginning of September. The offer was not all-cash, but made with a down payment and a mortgage. The lawsuit says the buyer was a white man who was permitted to have the property inspected before he purchased it.

Verdell Franklin says at that point, their friends who had accompanied them to the original showing encouraged them to do something about this.

"These friends of ours said, 'You need to contact the fair housing authority in Michigan, because something's going on here.'" He says after they contacted the fair housing authority, they found out that the listing agent for the property was Rick Beaudin.

Beaudin was let go from RE/MAX Platinum in June, following comments posted on social media. Joseph DeKroub of RE/MAX Platinum confirmed that he had fired Beaudin. 

"It was a combination of a lot of stuff. He was doing, like 'All Lives Matter,' 'If [Black Lives Matter] come to Pinckney, we won't put up with your crap,' and he was just antagonizing. I just told him, that's about as racial as it gets, you can't do that." DeKroub says he hasn't had any contact with Beaudin since, adding, "I don't know much about if he's continuing down that path or not, obviously he had a problem here. I don't know."

The lawsuit alleges that Ikens and Beaudin violated the 1968 Fair Housing Act by "imposing unfair conditions of sale—namely, cash-only and a higher sales price, and 'as is'—on Verdell and Julie Franklin because of race." It also alleges Beaudin violated the law when he "refused to present to his clients the Franklins’ bona fide offer to purchase a dwelling because of race." RE/MAX Platinum and KW Realty Livingston, Ikens' and Beaudin's respective agencies, are also listed as defendants, and they "ultimately presented to their clients for acceptance a white man’s offer of $300,000, financed by a mortgage loan, that they informed the Franklins, an interracial couple, would not have been acceptable."

The Franklins' attorney, Robin Wagner, says the lawsuit is important, because recognizing housing discrimination can be tricky.

"A lot of times you wouldn't even know this had happened to you in trying to buy a house. You might've just been told sorry, your offer won't be accepted, as Verdell and Julie were told, only to find out later the exact same offer was good enough for a white man to buy the house," says Wagner.

Verdell Franklin says he and his wife have faced discrimination before as an interracial couple, but rarely anything so blatant. He says the lawsuit is to make sure the people involved are held accountable for their actions.

"First and foremost is accountability. These people need to answer to what has taken place, and that is the  biggest thing that we're looking for here is accountability because this should not be going on in this day and age," he says.

Rick Beaudin says he has not yet been served this lawsuit, and does not know who the Franklins are.

Mary Kay Ikens did not respond to a request for comment.

RE/MAX Platinum says it does not comment on pending litigation, and KW Realty Livingston says it has yet to be served the lawsuit and does not have any comments at this time.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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