Ohio couple alleges discrimination kept them from buying Livingston Co. lake home

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
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An interracial couple from Maumee, Ohio, has sued two Livingston County real estate agents and two real estate firms  after the couple said agents dissuaded them from buying a house on a lake. 

The lawsuit was filed Friday in the Eastern District of Michigan, and plaintiffs Verdell and Julie Franklin are demanding a jury trial over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. 

Verdell and Julie Franklin

Verdell Franklin, who is Black, is chief financial officer of the Toledo Fire Department. Julie Franklin, who is White, is a registered nurse anesthetist.

The suit alleges that last September, after years of visiting friends on Zukey Lake in Hamburg Township, the couple decided to buy a lake house there.

Their friends forwarded a Facebook post by Realtor Rick Beaudin, which listed a home for $350,000.

Julie Franklin called Beaudin's office and soon got a call back from another agent, Mary Kay Ikens. They set up a tour for the next day.

The tour lasted about a half-hour, and the couple alleges Ikens "demonstrated no interest in the Franklins as potential buyers," allegedly never inquiring about their jobs or their qualifications to buy the home or gauging their interest.

Still, the Franklins told Ikens they would make an offer on the house "immediately," the lawsuit claims.

"Ikens reacted in an awkward way and instead of immediately following through with the Franklins to process and present the offer, she informed the Franklins and their friends that she had to show her friend a home nearby," the lawsuit claims.

After some back and forth, the Franklins prepared an offer for $300,000 and told Ikens it was just a first offer, according to the lawsuit.

"However, Ikens informed the Franklins that unless the Franklins were willing to offer the asking price of $350,000, that Beaudin would continue to show the house all weekend and the Franklins’ offer would be ignored by the sellers," the suit said.

Then, more conditions were attached: It had to be a cash offer and the home had to be bought as-is, the suit claims. Those conditions were false and known to be false when the agent made them, and were made to discourage the couple from moving forward in the buying process, they allege.

The Franklins withdrew their offer.

Beaudin said Monday he had not yet been served with the lawsuit and would not comment until he had seen it. 

A message for comment was left with Ikens, but she could not immediately be reached.

"Based on the false information Ikens provided to the Franklins, which was intended to and did dissuade them from making an offer on the home because of their race, the Franklins did not consummate their offer because they believed that their offer would be rejected and their good faith efforts to purchase the home would be futile," the lawsuit said.

The home later was sold to a White man for the same $300,000 the Franklins had offered, according to the lawsuit, and it was mortgage-financed, not a cash deal. The potential buyer was allowed to have an inspection rather than buy the home as-is, they claim.

The Franklins allege these maneuvers infringed on their right to nondiscrimination in housing under the Fair Housing Act. 

In addition to Beaudin and Ikens, the suit names RE/Max Platinum and KW Realty Livingston as defendants. 

The lawsuit reads: "The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful 'to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.'

"Defendants are licensed real estate professionals and agencies with a special duty under Michigan law to respect and abide by all state and federal fair housing laws; therefore, their violation of the Franklins’ rights is particularly egregious and shocking so as to justify the imposition of punitive damages."

The suit also alleges that the defendants violated the property rights of the Franklins, and that Beaudin and Ikens violated the Franklins' civil rights.

The Franklins are seeking damages and attorney fees.

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