A Brooklyn-based tenant advocacy non-profit has launched “Who Owns What,” a website for tenants, community organizers and elected officials to report property ownership and management company networks across New York City.
The platform, available at WhoOwnsWhat.nyc, uses an algorithm built on open data to conduct “property ownership mapping” that determines the buildings that a landlord or management company is associated with.
By offering this to the public as a free service, Who Owns What equips tenants with information about their building’s history and community organizers with the ability to track so-called “predatory” practices in their neighborhoods.
“Every New Yorker has the right to know who owns the building in which they live, especially tenants experiencing harassment and displacement,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.
“Who Owns What is an extremely helpful new tool, particularly for tenants who do not have an attorney or other ways to track down vital information. With its user friendly format, WoW increases transparency and gives tenants a vital way to begin to address housing issues they may be facing.”
Oftentimes, when a landlord buys a building, they will use an LLC to preserve anonymity. This prevents tenants, organizers and policymakers from being able to connect the dots and target those they believe to be engaging in speculative behavior, harassment and discrimination.
Tenants who suffer from the same landlords are left in the dark, oftentimes not even knowing that their neighbors down the block are dealing with the same issues.
JustFix.nyc was started three years ago with a mission to supply New Yorkers with tools that help them fight displacement and gentrification.
Daniel Kass, co-founder and Executive Director of JustFix.nyc said, “Working class tenants across the city are currently pitted against a multi-billion dollar real estate industry looking to maximize profits. We aim to provide new tactics in the fight to protect tenants rights and contribute to a 21st century housing movement in our city.”
With the new system to reveal property ownership networks and track “offenders,” JustFix.nyc will explore how to apply the insights to bring change to the affordable housing ecosystem.
Combining the data from Who Owns What with aggregated data from JustFix.nyc’s other tool, the Tenant App for repairs and harassment, the organization intends to facilitate collective action with many tenants in a building or in different buildings across a landlord’s portfolio.
In partnership with tenant organizing efforts, legal aid providers, and local elected officials, JustFix.nyc has already begun the formation of group cases against landlords with clear patterns of neglect, harassment, evictions, and deregulation of affordable units.
“One of many challenges that tenants in New York City face are the opaque and complicated ways in which landlords own, control and manage rental properties,” said Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Queens Neighborhood Office of The Legal Aid Society.
“These tangled webs make it difficult for tenants to know who is responsible for charging the proper rent, who should be addressing repairs, and ultimately, who should be liable for claims brought by tenants. At the Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office, we have and can now use WoW to unmask a politically-connected or well-established family as the player behind a scheme to defraud hundreds of tenants from rent protections.”
While much of the data powering Who Owns What is publicly available, most advocacy organizations don’t have the technical expertise to aggregate and analyze the data in order to make it actionable.