Landlords who mistreat their tenants usually hide behind several layers of disguise
Landlords who mistreat their tenants usually hide behind several layers of disguise. If you don’t know who they are, they don’t fear being sued or even having to meet you face to face to hear about your dissatisfaction. Things would be different if they knew you could have the Sheriff serve them a subpoena at their home, or picket in front of their mansion for all their neighbors and the press to see. Then, they might consider being more accountable, and fulfilling their half of the contract.
Typically, you are given a grouchy and menacing resident manager: a little person who has never had power before – and loves it. The South Park episode where Cartman shouts “Respect my authoritah!” [or Barny Fife taking charge, for the older set] aptly depicts the state of mind. Their job is to keep the landlord hidden and discourage you from asking for anything.
Civil Code §1962 requires the landlord to disclose to the tenant his/her true name, address, etc, but there is no punishment if the landlord refuses. The landlord is not permitted to hide from the tenants, but the law is weak for political purposes. One new law [Health and Safety Code §17997] requires landlords after being cited for substandard conditions to identify who they are to the County or in the building elevator, and failure to do so is both a misdemeanor and a defense to an eviction. Does this mean that landlords will come out of hiding? Not where there’s money in staying hidden. This is where you come in.
Overview – Property Management Companies Are Not The Owners
The one behind it all is the owner(s) of your building. They hire the property management company and tell them what to do, and the management company in turn tells the resident manager what to do. Your “landlord” is the building owner. You get to them, and the rest fall in line. Finding them may be a little tricky. Don’t trust what management says. Find out, yourself.
There are websites which contain the information you need on line, which are discussed in greater detail, below. There are additional ways to get official information other than by hiring a private detective, and companies which specialize in providing that information to you at a nominal cost.
Find Out Who the Title Holder Is
The one you really want to find is the “Title Holder,” or the top person in the business if that title holder is an entity, like a corporation. The title holder means the one who is officially on the deed [title] to your apartment building or property. That may be a person, a couple, a corporation, partnership, living trust, or other other type of legal entity. The buck stops there. Until you get to the top of the pyramid, you are just dealing with the people who take orders, and probably have no knowledge, training, authority, skills, resources, or concern to solve your problem. If you sue, you are suing the owner of the property, and usually not the property management company through whom the owner works. It is the owner who suffers from adverse judgments, citations, lost profits, construction expenses, legal costs, and poor management. The bigger they are, the less want to be bothered with the day-to-day problems and the more they shield themselves from you. Therefore, the information on this page is to help you break through all of that, contact Mr. Big directly, and solve the problem, one way or the other.
Be Mindful of Fictitious Business Names
You may make your rent check payable to the name of your building, like “Windsor Arms Apartments.” That may be the name of your landlord on your rental agreement, too. If you make your check out to such a name, there probably was a statement filed at some time, because the bank needs it to have a checking account in that name. That is an example of a “fictitious business name” (or “FBN”), also commonly referred to as a “DBA” (=doing business as). In most cases, using a DBA is the first veil of secrecy, since it is inexpensive and easy to get, and most tenants don’t know how to get past that. The next veil of secrecy could be that the DBA is used by a business entity (i.e., instead of a person), which is just the next layer to go through.
The law [Business and Professions Code §17910] requires the landlord who uses a DBA to file a Statement and publish for a month in the newspaper a public notice identifying that names and addresses of who is behind that fictitious business name. It has to be re-filed and published every 5 years. The statement is recorded in order to permit you to look up that information. If they don’t file, the only punishment is that their eviction case or other lawsuit can be stalled until they do. Sometimes, both the landlord and the property management company use DBAs. You can look up the DBA through your County Clerk here. This gives you the filing number and date, from which you can then request a copy of the actual Statement from the County Clerk’s office at a nominal charge.
Business Entity – Another Layer of Disguise
A corporation is a way for one or more people to share ownership of a business, like your apartment building. Over the years, new hybrid forms of business organization formed, called “limited partnership” [Ltd], “limited liability company” [LLC], “limited liability partnership” [LLP]. Each of these has to register with the California Secretary of State, saying who they are behind this name. If they are one of these entities doing business under their official name, they do not also need to file a fictitious business name. The Secretary of State has the listings on line, where your search will either find the name or not, and show the official filing number [like a license number to be that business], its date of formation, it’s official name and status, and an “agent for service of process”. For smaller corporations, the agent is probably the owner, but for larger corporations, it could be the corporate attorney. The same is true of LLCs and the rest. An agent for service of process is only the official person to give the papers when you are suing that business. It may be that the corporation that owns your building is itself owned by two LLCs, which are owned by limited partnerships or trusts. You can repeat the above process to get to the bottom of it, in any case. If the Agent is your landlord, clicking on the corporate name gives you the address of the agent. Otherwise, you have the corporate number, and can have a document service in Sacramento get the official documents for you.
Another way to find out who is behind all this is to look at the recorded deeds for your building. The Counties vary as to which department has which records. Typically, before a deed can be recorded, it has to pass by the property tax assessor first before the deed is recorded, so the County knows to whom it will send the property tax bill. [Here’s a handy list of the Assessors] What you want to know is the name and address of the taxpayer for the given address. This is NOT secret information, protected by the Privacy Act, as some clerks might tell you. This is the same information that is on the deed that is recorded for public purposes, to give “constructive notice” to all the world who owns a given piece of real property. Typically, you can get this information without a problem.
Occasionally, the address doesn’t match up with their records, and you have to find the Parcel Number [sometimes referred to as the “APN”]. This can happen where the developer bought empty land or a group of houses with one address, then tore it down and building the apartment complex, assigning a new address, which can even be on an adjoining street from the original address. You can get parcel maps which show the lots in your neighborhood, identify which one is yours, and use that APN to get the name and address of the taxpayer for that parcel. The State provides this list.
Check The Deeds
When the landlord buys the property, he records the Grant Deed by which he becomes “title owner” of the property, so that all the world knows who owns this property. If someone wants to buy that property, they can look it up and see that he is in fact the owner. This is not secret information, but to the contrary, deeds are recorded so that all the world can knows who owns the property. Each County has a Record’s office where anyone can walk in and look up who owns property, for free as a government service. There is a deed recorded right now showing who owns the property you are renting, and you can get a copy of that deed for a nominal cost, usually saying how much the landlord paid for it. You can even look up who the prior owners were, called a “chain of title.”
Along with that Grant Deed you can get the Trust Deed, also public information, which will reveal who Mr. Big is behind a corporation or other business entity that might own the property. When the landlord borrowed money to buy the building, the loan was “secured” like collateral by a Trust Deed. The trust deed gives the bank the ability to conduct a foreclosure sale if the loan is not paid back. Whoever signs the loan [“promissory note”] also signs the trust deed. So, if there is a corporation or LLC that buys the property, the bank wants someone in high authority, like the President, to be one signing the loan and trust deed. For example, the Grant Deed is signed by the former owner giving title to XYZ, Inc., your landlord, but the Trust Deed is signed by Mr. Joe Big, President of XYZ, Inc.
You can go to the County Record’s Office yourself [here’s the LIST] and look this up, get copies, and even have them stamped as official copies. The people who are usually searching records there are usually very helpful to show you how to do this. Most have update electronic searches, but some may still using microfische. Alternatively, you can get this information, commonly called a “Property Profile”] from a friend who is in real estate and has access to a computer program like DataQuick, or through the Customer Service Department of any Title Insurance Company , which will typically mail you the property profile for free within a couple of days. A title insurance company is the entity whose money is on the line to ensure that if you buy the property, this is who the owner is and these are the liens against it, and so forth, so that what you see is what you get. They get their information from the recorders’ offices and tax assessors’ offices, so it’s as accurate as can be.
Property management companies are required to be operated under a real estate broker’s license, and the broker is findable through the Department of Real Estate [DRE], which might also have the company itself as the listed entity. If the property management company is operating without a broker, the DRE will issue a Cease and Desist order and put them out of business.
Business Licenses, etc.
There may be other resources to find your landlord can be the local City or County Business License department, the rent control board if there is one, condo homeowner associations, etc, may have contact information. The local courthouse, and even online case searches, can reveal the names of the people behind the scene who are controlling everything, through the other lawsuits. If the landlord is bad to you, he probably is the same to other people, his ex-wife, other business associates, etc, and there will be lawsuits where the name comes up. Even if the name is not readily available in the lawsuit papers, you can find the lawyer who represented your landlord’s opponent in another lawsuit, and he may have names and contact information acquired for his purposes in that lawsuit, that he’s be happy to share with you. Internet searches may reveal other information about the company, such as news stories, that identify people and addresses. People are findable.
You may have your own favorite, but GoogleMap and MapQuest are helpful to locate property addresses and give directions on how to there from your home. When you have the address, you want to know where that is. You simply type in the address and it gives you a map you can copy onto clipboard and paste onto a word processing page, or otherwise print out directly, and often also gives you an aerial view of the neighborhood. This gives you precise directions on how to get to your landlord’s house, that you can also share with your other apartment neighbors, in case they were having a communication problem with the manager. No reason why you can’t drive to the landlord’s house and knock on his door to resolve the problem.
Having hidden behind so many shields, the actual landlord may have a listed telephone number. You might be able to get it that way, or through one of the people-finding services on the internet. In today’s world, your landlord may be findable on FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social interaction networks. There are several on-line phonebook directories, like AnyWho, WhitePages, and Switchboard. There may be several with the same name, however, so don’t assume you’ve found the John Smith you’re looking for because you saw the name in the phone book. The address you have may confirm that.
Found Your Landlord, Now What?
There was a reason that you were searching for the landlord, Mr. Big, or whoever is really in charge behind the scenes. There is a lot you can do with this information. The problem you are having may not be known by the person who is at the top of the pyramid, and how you are being treated may or may not be their policy. Property owners trust the management of their property to individuals who claim to be professionals, but who may not know what they are doing.
The property management company may, and often does, delegate responsibilities and authority to people who know even less, and fee unaccountable for their actions. Little people with power may be running amok, setting up situations that are about to get the owner of the property sued, and yet the own is oblivious to these problems because of all the shielding he has created to not be bothered. When you pull back the curtain and reveal the Wizard of Oz to be an ordinary person, vulnerable and findable, you can get a whole different result, and change of policies.
1. Contact the owner directly. Let them know about the problems you are facing, and why you had to contact them directly, and not through the chain of command.
2. Take the landlord’s picture, a picture of his house, and a map on how to get there from your apartment building, and print them on a flier with the name, other contact information, and explanation of who this is, that you distribute to everyone else in your apartment complex. Talk about unnerving for someone who has tried to stay hidden from you, this strategy may not make you popular with the owner or management, but it certainly gets their attention.
3. Sue the landlord, sending the Sheriff as a process server to their home, for all of their snooty neighbors to snicker and gossip about. Look who’s in trouble!
4. Encourage the other tenants to visit the landlord’s house, themselves, to get around the property management company that is mishandling this situation.
5. Organize a picketing of the landlord in front of his home, “Slumlord, slumlord” and similar signs, to held him up to shame in front of his wealthy neighbors. You can even call the Press to cover your protest in front of the landlord’s home, and tell the public about the way you are treated.
6. Encourage the other tenants to sue the landlord and his company in small claims court, now that you know who he is and where he is, at up to $10,000 per person.
7. Encourage the landlord to fire his property management company and get someone who won’t get him sued and humiliated, and then sue his property management company for malpractice.
8. Post this information on line, to warn prospective tenants of this landlord and his company, so that they don’t fall prey to him, and his vacancy rate increases, hitting him where it hurts -in the pocket.
9. Encourage the other tenants in your complex to file complaints with the local Health Department and Building Department, as appropriate, to get him cited for violations that he has to either fix or be criminally prosecuted.
10. Use your contact information to find other real property that this landlord owns, and contact those tenants to do there what you have in your own unit.
11. If there is a larger organization, like a corporation, where Mr. Big is simply the one in charge, he is accountable to the other owners of the company, who may be even more oblivious to the problems. You can contact them, and let them know that Mr. Big is screwing up, going to get them sued and cited, and if they don’t take action, soon, they will lose money in their investment. This gets the landlord company owners fighting among themselves, and you may find that some of the owners agree with you about who things should be done, or not done. They can replace Mr. Big, along with the property management company, resident manager, and whoever else is the problem, to restore things to how they should be.
12. Contact the neighbors of your landlord to let them know what he is doing, and why it is wrong. In lieu of picketing, this is just as effective to strike home, particularly if he becomes aware that you are informing his neighbors. You want to be sure that anything you write or say is true or your opinion, so he can’t sue you for defamation. If it’s true AND bad, no problem with telling everyone.