Landlords who like to remain anonymous may have a tough time in New York City. An app that peers behind the veil of an LLC lets tenants know “Who Owns What.” It’s part of a new effort among technology tenants in New York City to fight for housing justice, and expose bad landlords. Of course, what happens in New York, may not stay in New York.
The New York Times brought this trend to light in a recent article. It says that coders have been meeting for more than a year now on ways to empower tenants with technology. They have a website called JustFix.nyc that lists several apps for tenants including one called “Who Owns What.” (1)
“Who Owns What” Lifts the Veil
This app allows you to plug in an address and find the name of the landlord or business entity that owns the building. Individual properties are often listed under their own LLCs so it’s often difficult to connect one property with another, but this app attempts to connect the dots and “lift the veil of secrecy that shrouds the portfolio of landlords” according to the Times. (2)
You can search by address or by property owner. Either way, you will get a map with dots that show all the properties owned by one landlord. When you click on one of the dots on the map, you will see a photograph of the building along with information about that property. It tells you the business entity name for that address along with the address, the year it was built, how many units it has, the number of violations, and the number of evictions. It also displays the names of the head officer and agent for each one. Tenants who want to publicize an issue they have with the building can also do that on the website.
The app is designed to help tenants with similar complaints organize against bad landlords. It pulls information from various government databases and by cross-referencing the information, can discover things like a shared address for several LLCs. The Times says the apps turn what would be a laborious task into a quick search with the app.
Coder and co-founder of JustFix.nyc, Dan Kass, said of the app, “The purpose is for organizers to track landlords and to identify the landlords that are speculative or predatory in their neighborhood and to be able to organize around that.”
Inspired by a Cold Winter and Cockroaches
Kass started JustFix.nyc in 2015 with two other coders. Since then, they’ve created several digital tools to help tenants. Another one of their tools is called Heat Seek. It helps tenants track the temperature in their units, and report any temperature-related violations. (3)
Under New York law, landlords must provide heat during the winter. According to the Heat Seek website, the city received more than 200,000 heat-related complaints last year. It says less than 4% typically result in a violation. As part of the Heat Seek mission, temperature sensors are installed in apartments to help tenants document and report any problems.
Coders Promote “Civil Technology”
Kass says he was inspired to join this movement and build on this “civil technology” after spending his first winter in New York City without any heat in his cramped, basement apartment. He says he also discovered a huge cockroach infestation after he moved in.
The JustFix.nyc website also helps tenants with repairs and eviction proceedings. (4) Of course, landlords can avoid this kind of tenant reaction by providing good service. Tenants who are treated well, will typically do the same for you and your properties. But it’s also good to know what is bubbling just under the surface among tenants in general, and what technology is coming into play.
As landlords, we are aware of the technology we have at our disposal. It’s good to know what’s also being used by tenants.