Rents Blog: Who owns Alameda?
Rents Blog: Who owns Alameda?
Rising rents and a spate of termination and eviction notices have prompted speculation about who owns the thousands of rental units that populate the Island. So we decided to look into who owns property here, what’s changed hands over the past year – and who is responsible for rent increases that have been challenged by residents as excessive.
To answer these questions, The Alamedan consulted a list of public records sources, primarily the Alameda County Assessor’s property assessment roll, which lists the address, value, owner and use of every parcel on the Island as of November 2014.
When companies or partnerships were named as owners, we checked the California Secretary of State’s business entity database, Alameda County’s public records database and business directory websites in an effort to determine whether the companies’ owners are local or off-Island.
We also cross-referenced the data with publicly available listings of properties sold over the past year, and we took a look at the Rent Review Advisory Committee’s 2014 cases to find out if the owners of the properties at the heart of those disputes are local, or, as local property managers have said, from out of town.
From the assessor’s rolls, we pulled and examined the types of property we anticipated would most likely be rented out as dwellings: Residential buildings with five or more units, residential high-rise buildings (there’s just one in Alameda – Marina View Towers, purchased by a San Francisco firm in 2013) and properties with between two and four residential units – about 2,300 properties in all.
We omitted single-family homes from this analysis, because the assessor’s data don’t say whether they are occupied by homeowners or renters.
This isn’t a perfect analysis, and it doesn’t answer all the questions people have about rental properties in Alameda. The assessor’s rolls, for example, don’t tell us how many dwellings properties with five or more units hold, and online sales data is also an imperfect information source in that it is not an official record of sales. We’re offering the data and our findings as a starting point, to give readers an idea about who owns rental properties in Alameda.
Here’s what we found.
Most of the Island’s multifamily properties are owned by Alameda residents and investors. Most of the multi-unit residential properties in Alameda are owned by people who are based right here on the Island, including about half of the properties with five or more units and about three-quarters of those containing two, three or four dwelling units.
Most of the rest of the properties are owned by investors based in the Bay Area. A very small number of the properties we looked at – fewer than five dozen of the roughly 2,300 we surveyed – are owned by people or entities that are in other states. None was owned by a foreign resident or entity.
Many of the properties are legally owned by trusts, limited partnerships or limited liability companies, which are forms of ownership that can be seen as conferring certain tax benefits or legal protections. Most of those entities are owned by people who live or do business in Alameda or elsewhere in the Bay Area; in a handful of instances, we were unable to identify the people who owned properties here.
The assessor listed the Bank of America as the owner of one Island property – an address containing two units on the 1500 block of Pacific Avenue. None of the properties was directly owned by a large investor, and none of the trusts, partnerships or limited liability corporations that own property appeared to be owned by one. (An Alamedan reader commented on an earlier post about private equity giant Blackstone Group’s U.S. homebuying binge.)
Only a few dozen multifamily properties appear to have changed hands in 2014, and most of those were bought by locals. Online records obtained from the RealtyTrac website show that 64 multifamily residential buildings sold in Alameda in 2014, most of them five units or less. For the 25 properties with five units or less for whom new owner data were available, 19 were bought by people who live in Alameda and another two were purchased by people who do business on the Island, the assessor’s rolls show.
Three were purchased by people who live in East Bay cities – Berkeley, Piedmont and Brentwood – while a pair of Los Angeles residents are listed as the owners of a fourth, the rolls show. (Several other sales took place after the rolls were updated, so the new owners’ names weren’t listed on the assessor’s rolls.)
We checked in with a real estate broker friend about sales of larger buildings, and he spotted seven transfers of buildings with 10 units or more in 2014 in the records he has access to, two of them sales. One was to a Berkeley owner, while the other went to a limited liability corporation with a local address.
While most of the rental property we examined is locally owned, a majority of the rent cases the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee heard last year involve off-Island owners. Local property managers have said that out of town owners, and not those based on the Island, are responsible for the big rent increases some tenants say they are experiencing. And at least one data source appears to back them up.
Alameda’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates rent disputes between owners and renters, considered 14 excessive rent complaints in 2014 (others were resolved before the committee was scheduled to hear them). Eleven of the 14 cases the committee heard involved out of town property owners.
Of the three properties whose owners list an Alameda address in public records, one involved a property that changed hands in 2014, though it’s not clear whether the property’s current or prior owners were involved in the case. Another involved owners with an office in Harbor Bay Landing Shopping Center; the listed owners’ address is in Sacramento, California Secretary of State records show.