Absentee Owner Issues: The Data Challenge

Slumlords have an information advantage over people who give a crap about their community. For example, the Hennepin County property website provides information on individual properties, but doesn’t allow people to cross-reference by owner. Once a problem property is identified, it would be valuable to be able to cross reference other properties owned by the same person or company. That’s not to say that every property is automatically a problem property because it has the same owner. For example, the property they actually live in is likely in much better shape than many of their rentals.

This may help us gain a better understanding of festering housing issues before they erupt, like this case that Jeff Skrenes has been reporting on at Johnny Northside’s blog. In that case, a husband and wife team formed a business partnership and appear to have purchased over 50 Minneapolis properties that later all fell into foreclosure. Here is a map of what they own in North Minneapolis, according to Jeff Skrenes’s sources:

PAMIKO Properties

Pulling back, here is a city-wide look at their empire.

PAMIKO Properties

See how this could be useful? If someone in the Hawthorne Neighborhood figures out that a particular landlord is behind a series of problem properties, they could tip off involved community members in Whittier or Phillips about properties that may deserve a closer look. People from various communities could work together to identify who’s making life difficult for people across the city.

But, this can only be done with better data. Community activists shouldn’t have to stumble upon cooperative gatekeepers to public data. If the data is truly public, it needs to also be more readily accessible than it is today.

10 thoughts on “Absentee Owner Issues: The Data Challenge”

  1. Ed, Please remember there are many responsible landlords in your community. Like irresponsible business owners, irresponsible landlords should be held accountable. But information like the information posted on your website leaves the public to believe all landlords are “slumlords” when that really isn’t the case.
    Just an observation as a landlord myself… most of the areas that are run down were rundown before the landlords came in. Not an excuse to leave a property in disrepair. In many cases, landlords are held to higher standards than homeowners in the same areas. As a landlord for the last 15 years I’ve seen my share of very nice properties all but destroyed by tenants. Torn screens, new stoves destroyed, cabinet doors ripped off hinges, holes in walls, new carpet destroyed, broken windows, trash and debris littering the yards, etc… all at considerable expense to the landlord. In fact, I spent last Friday night replacing a toilet that the tenant let her children put toys down… and let it overflow for a week before calling me.
    I challenge you to buy a low to mid income property and manage for a year. I’ve heard through very credible sources you are a man of action…. Speak from experience!!! One more thing and then I’ll shut up. The city in which I own the majority of my property has a database of “slumlords”, which I am not on. We approached the city (and even offered to fund) about maintaining a database of “dead-beat” tenants. The intent of course to identify dead-beats tenants which are as detrimental to properties as slumlords. The city refused this action, but still maintains the slumlord database. Thank you for an enjoyable blog… look forward to the rest of the story… Ben

  2. Thank you, Ed. I’ve been bringing up this issue for so long, how the ability to do these data searches on the city’s website–a capacity other cities have in other states–would put us weeks, months ahead in finding these patterns of problem properties.

  3. @Randy, of course. Bring it.

    @Ben, that’s interesting to hear that a tenant database was shot down. I imagine that does happen among larger rental companies and I can see where it would be valuable for smaller landlords. I’ve considered investing in properties in the past but have avoided it partly due to a lack of time to manage things competently. I get the impression that some people who end up labeled as slumlords are overly optimistic about the time involved, appreciation of their properties, timeliness of their rental payments, etc., and end up getting in trouble because of a combination of things like this.

    @John, positive change is happening. More to come.

  4. What the books and infomercials (and I’ve read and watched them all) don’t teach you is how to manage your property. They focus on ‘cash-flow’ or ‘no money down’ or whatever the buzz is today! $$$
    Successful landlords will have business systems and controls to help manage effectively. For example, inspection checklist that are completely every 3 months with the tenant present, immediate neighbors have landlord cell phone number, accounting software, etc. To be successful you have to adopt a proactive approach when managing income properties or they will run you, instead of you running them.

  5. Ben has some good points – I am a property manager too and always strive to be proactive, managing residents and their behavior is a large part of the job.

  6. Commenting on the data provided…

    You ask a lot of they city to not only provide you the data but also process and analyze it in the manner you want. As you point it, it is pretty easy to get the data visualized in a manner that provides more insight on certain aspects of analysis. It’s unreasonable to expect them to know how a particular user wants to visualize the dataset, however. Thus the solution is to release the data and let the users analyze it how they like.

    Watchdog groups and and citizens can and should explore the data and find meaningful relationships. They should also share their methods and results with both the people and the agency producing the data.

  7. With the margins for this where they are and the reality of adjustable rate mortgages, these landlords may not be slumlords at all. How many renters not paying rent do you think it would take before all the houses are forclosed? I’m sure you’re equally outraged by Fannie and Freddie doing the exact same thing with the mortgages they bought so do you consider them slum lords too?

    You just have to be careful judging someone’s character by their economic data. No good can come of it.

  8. @ Shawn: This really isn’t asking a whole lot. The city itself has the ability to search using the owner’s name as a criteria. That ability however, is not available to the general public. From a cost standpoint, making this happen would be relatively painless.

    @ Lloyd: Two completely different issues. A landlord like Pamiko did not put much money at all into his properties. And there is enough of an appearance of wrongdoing to indicate the potential of fraud. Along with the University of Minnesota’s CURA program, I worked on a research project that identified all the ARM loans originated in north Minneapolis in 2007 (the last peak year for such loans). Virtually none of them were owned by Fannie/Freddie. But yes, I am equally outraged that many of the mortgage lenders, servicers, and other investors who profited from the origination of predatory loans are not doing nearly enough to address the problem.

    That doesn’t let slumlords off the hook, however.

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