Feature Release: Owner Linking
Property records across the country are a mess. There is no national data standard shared among tax assessors and deed recorders—the entities typically responsible for recording and maintaining property information. So it varies widely from one county or city to the next. And even within a single jurisdiction, the same owner may have its name recorded in a variety of ways. We worked with one large city that wanted to tally up all the properties owned by a single redevelopment agency. We found 56 different variations of the same name across just under 800 properties. These included the following spellings:
- MAYOR, MAYORS, MAYOR’S, and MAYORS’S
- AUTHORITY, AUTHORITYS, AUTH, and AURTHORITY
- REDEVELOPMENT, REDEVELOP, and REDEV
Now consider that many owners want to obscure what they own or spread their inventory over different entities for legal and financial advantages. First Key Homes, which built a national portfolio of single-family rentals on the heels of the 2008 Foreclosure Crisis, is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. Across our database, there are dozens of different variations all linked back to the same mailing address in Marietta, Georgia, including CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS, CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS I, CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS II, and CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS III.
So not only are there unintentional reasons why it’s difficult to know who owns what, but tracing property ownership is made even more challenging because of the intentional use of shell companies and owners.
But we know the importance of understanding property ownership. Which is why we developed a set of features to help our partners in local government untangle this messy data.
We run a matching algorithm across all identity data in our system to flag potentially related entities. The simplest of these matches looks at the degree of similarity in the owner name, so CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS and CERBERUS S F R HOLDINGS I would be identified as a high-probability match on name. The second level of matching looks at the mailing address associated with the owner. So two entirely unrelated names with no overlap that both receive their tax bill at the same mailing address would be identified as a high probability match. The algorithm can comb deeper through property and billing records to flag linkages such as a shared water billing address or common phone number provided to a rental registry.
Any potential similar owners are listed along with the name or address match rate on the Owner Profile in BuildingBlocks. Users can select specific owners that they have high confidence are related to one another, then click the blue Link Owner(s) button to connect those owners in the application. BuildingBlocks users will see the linked owners and all associated properties on any Property or Owner Profile. Searches for any of the linked owners will return all associated properties. There is a time stamp that documents which user linked the owner.
Public owner consolidation
During deployment of BuildingBlocks, we can consolidate variations of public agency names to give users a simple, easy-to-use way to map publicly owned properties across different departments. So instead of having to research dozens of variations of, say, the Redevelopment Authority, to know where and what the agency owns, we can automatically consolidate those under a common name. The Public Owner filter then allows users to search for properties owned by one or more public agencies, such as Land Bank, Redevelopment Authority, Water District, or Transportation Department. Typically, the launch of BuildingBlocks is the first time our local government partners have been able to accurately tally up what is owned by the public sector within their jurisdiction.
“Like most places, we’ve got a few bad landlords that are always setting up shell LLC’s or transferring properties to relatives to throw us off their scent. Owner Linking allows everyone to be on the same page and know who we’re dealing with when we respond to a complaint from a tenant.” Manager of Code Enforcement, Pennsylvania
“Our mayor wanted us to focus on ways we can better leverage public property to develop affordable housing. Instead of spending six months and tens of thousands of dollars to hire a consultant to tell us what we own, BuildingBlocks give us the answer in seconds.” Housing Analyst, California
“Understanding who is buying up properties in our community is critical to anticipating neighborhood change. Where do we see private equity-backed firms moving in? Are local landlords expanding their footprint? Now we can monitor these trends as they happen.” Director, Planning and Economic Development, Tennessee
Director, Planning and Economic Development, Tennessee
“The Owner Linking tool is 100% critical to an effective housing court. If I don’t know the whole story behind an owner I’m up against, I’m operating blind. The research that would be required to trace the properties they control and their history of noncompliance would bury my team. We just don’t have the resources not to have this tool.” Deputy City Attorney, Ohio