How-to Monday: Tracking down a property owner
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So you want to know who, exactly, owns that vacant property near you. Perhaps it's an eyesore and you'd like the name of the guy to complain to. Or you want to buy it and can't figure out where to send the offer. Or you're just nosy. (That's OK; we're all friends here.)
Follow me -- to the Internetmobile, Robin!
Your research trip might be short and sweet. First try the state Department of Assessments and Taxation's property search page, which gives you a variety of information on properties across Maryland -- tax assessment numbers, prior sales history in many cases, whether the property is owner-occupied and, yes, who that owner is.
A search on the Calvert Street address where I spend most of my time shows the owner as Tribune Co. and lists a mailing address in Chicago, for instance.
But what if said owner were a limited liability company with naught but a post office box? The Calvert Street building's previous owner was an LLC, as it happens. And many of the homes bought by real estate investors during the housing boom, some of which are vacantly languishing now, are LLC-owned.
Don't despair: Let me introduce you to another useful state site, MDLandRec.Net. It requires free sign-up, but it's worth the time.
This site collects scanned-in versions of land records such as mortgages and deeds, which is a handy way for finding real people involved with property-owning companies. You can search by address in Baltimore, but you'll need the owner name (in this example, the LLC) for the rest of the state.
Once you find documents associated with your mystery owner, read through to see who signed them. "I Own This House LLC" can hold property, but it can't put its John Hancock on the dotted line -- that's where an actual human being is necessary. When I checked the deed showing Tribune as the new owner of The Sun's building, I did indeed see a human name and signature associated with the LLC that had owned it before.
Ah, the joys of research.
None of this guarantees that you'll be able to talk to the owner of the property you're interested in and/or annoyed about. Local code enforcement officials trying to track down absent owners can't always find them. But this way, at least, you'll have someone to try.