January 29, 2014
Economic Matters Committee
HB 268 Corporations and Associations – Limited Liability Companies – Company Representative
Dear Chairman Davis and Committee Members:
My name is Carol Ott, and I am the founder and director of Housing Policy Watch, an organization examines the issue of vacant and deteriorating properties and neighborhoods in Baltimore City, along with advocating for better housing policy across the state. Over the past five years, we have tried to bring pressure on the owners of deteriorated property to return the property to good use and start to heal our neighborhoods. I support HB 268, because it will remove the cloak of secrecy that currently shrouds Limited Liability Companies. That cloak of secrecy has allowed them to do business in our state with little to no accountability.
Currently, residents have little resources available to find out who owns a blighted vacant home in their communities – a home that could be causing serious damage to an occupied adjoining structure, or being used as a venue for violent crime. The State Department of Assessment and Taxation’s website lists only the resident agent, a person whose responsibility and duties are narrow and very limited in scope. We need to give residents the tools they need to take charge of what happens in their neighborhoods, and give them the ability to protect their own homes. This is a problem statewide, as I have heard from many homeowners and municipal officials regarding how to best track down the owners of these troublesome properties.
Frankly, the time and effort – along with taxpayer dollars – that are currently being spent tracking down absentee property owners could be put to better use. More transparency in LLC ownership would expedite a municipality’s ability to deal with nuisance property, and limit the waste of tax money.
In Baltimore City, where I live and work, we have over 30,000 vacant structures – many of which are owned by large-scale property owners who use multiple LLCs to buy and sell property. One in particular controls over 100 LLC shell companies – yet his name and address are associated with almost none of them on documents that are available to the public. I’ve been researching his LLCs and his homes for five years – and I still come across new LLCs, new properties every week – imagine the confusion this would cause a resident who simply wants to contact a property owner and alert him to a leak in the roof, or a potential fire hazard.
While I understand the benefit of corporate and LLC rules, we must not allow the bad apples to continue to hide their misdeeds under multiple layers of state-sanctioned protection.
I strongly support HB 268, and I urge you to do the same. Supporting this bill means supporting residents and their desire for safe housing, healthy neighborhoods, and a stronger Maryland.