Guide to Researching Landlords

Summary
How to do research on Philadelphia landlords, and bosses (need to work on that section).  This is designed for the Solidarity Network – but may be useful to others as well.

This is a work in progress. Please email me suggestions!

 

Who Rents?
46.7% of Philadelphia households rent (2009-2013 – five year average, American Community Survey – originally from Census “Quick Facts”, but link is now broken) – this is up from 45.1% in 2007-2011.  Renters are disproportionately young, people of color, and low income.

 

How to Find the Landlord’s Address
-Online search – Google
-They can also be listed in the Office of Property Assessment database (if they live in Philadelphia), or in court cases.
-Note: I do NOT recommend using the paid internet database services that claim to find information on people.  They have less information than you can find on your own, and are probably not worth it.

 

What Properties do they Own?
-For Philadelphia properties – use the Office of Property Assessment – this provides owner name, square feet, purchase price.  Philadelinquency.com has a good interface to the dataset.

-For other properties it might be possible to use online searches to find properties that are tied to a person – though if they are owned by their corporation, I think it is hard.  There is no free public database of property ownership (for PA or the US).  This data is probably only available on a county level, for a small number of counties that have an open data policy.

 

Map of Rental Licenses

Cost $50/unit.  Requires you to not have L&I violations and to assert that you are following the rules. It does not trigger any form of inspection.  Many landlords do not have them.
http://www.philadelinquency.com/property/onr/hrv

The City has a map of rental licenses

Note: there are a small number of properties that are improperly geocoded in the OPA database – for instance in West Philly some of the addresses are geocoded as North 4xth St. when they should be South 4xth St and vice-versa.  In that case, searching for the exact address can help.

Affordable Housing Projects that might go Market Rate
Since 1990, affordable housing is primarily subsidized with tax credits. In exchange, the property must be affordable for the first 15 years and then has a second 15 year period where it can apply to be converted into market-rate housing. This can happen in areas with rising housing prices.

Preservation Database – a database with some of the expiring tax credits (in Philadelphia this doesn’t handle properties that have deals through the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority)

 

Estimating Property Value

Zillow.com has a property history.  You can also tell if the property has been flipped or bought at a very cheap price (ex. foreclosure).

 

L&I Database
Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections has a database of property violations.
and the City has a map of them:www.phila.gov/map

Municipal Court Cases

Includes small claims (ex. tenants suing landlord for security deposit), taxes, unpaid water bills, unpaid rent, and License and Inspection violations

Municipal Court Cases

To get the full picture, you need to do separate searches for the target as a Plaintiff and Defendant. You should search for both the target by name and by name of any corporations that they have.

Often the court hired person will fail to “serve” someone, and the case will be dismissed against them (probably due to limited court resources to track people down).

 

Real Estate Taxes
Tax Balances – Philadelphia Department of Revenue

 

 

Water Bill

A large number of landlords do not pay their city water bills.

To get the water account number use the Stormwater billing map (search by address, account number shows up in the parcel info)

Once you have the account number you can find the bill

 

Philadelphia Marriages
You can search for marriages in Philadelphia since 1995 (could be useful if some of the properties are in the name of the spouse).

Campaign Donations

-Municipal: You can search by name and find all the contributions (eg. to all candidates).  You might also want to look for contributions by fellow employees (ex. of a law firm) that might be connected to the landlord.

Philadelphia Campaign Donations

Federal Campaign Donations


Non-Profits

Non profit organizations that are officially tax-exempt are required to submit a 990 Form to the IRS.   This includes information on some of their expenditures and income, though it can be hard to understand.  One interesting detail is that they list all of the employees who are paid over $100,000 and their salary as well as how much each board member is paid.
Groundspring.org has a database of 990 forms
CitizenAudit.org has a database of 990 forms

 How to Research Apartment Building Owners
According to the NMHC’s analysis of the American Community Survey data: 16% of Philadelphia households live in an apartment building.  This is much lower than the other 20 major cities that they reviewed.

Websites with apartment building ratings may be a good source for leads as to which buildings are the worst.   You might want to put up posters by buildings with low reviews.
ApartmentRatings.com

Yelp.com – has some apartment reviews

U Penn Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Landlord Survey  (primarily for buildings near U Penn in West Philly)

 

How to Research Corporations
(unfinished section – email me suggestions!)

-What are their revenues, employees, locations, areas of business, ties to other corporations?
Philadelphia Tenants Union
The Philadelphia Tenants Union is a project of the Philly Socialists. They are organizing tenants in apartment buildings and campaigning for Just Cause (limiting evictions to those with just cause).

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