How do I veil tenants from knowing I am the property owner?

16 Replies

I'm closing on my first property next month, and I'd like to set up so in the eyes of the tenants, I am the property manager, not the owner.

How can I get a different name on the lease?
What about mailing address?
Can I create a property management company that I then "hire" to run everything?

Thank you for your help and advice!

@Luke Baumbach you could set up an LLC; Ace Holdings LLC, you are a manager/member of the LLC. Generally a mailing address is your residence, but that might vary by state.

Today with the Internet there are no secrets so you will be found out if anyone decides to spend 10 minutes checking things out.

Luke you are better off in just coming clean and being honest with your tenants. Congrats on the buy and all the best!

The LLC and a separate registered agent is good. As are DBAs for the property management. But these days it's tougher to hide from someone who wants to find you. You're in a more difficult spot than, say a young person or someone from a foreign country just getting started with REI,,,,,because you already have a property ownership and entity internet trail.

@Luke Baumbach congratulations on your new property! 

This is a tricky situation. From my experiences, it doesn’t make a big difference if you call yourself the Landlord, Property Manager or owner. I find a lot of people take Landlord more as the property manager than the owner, so I tend to go with that.

Hi @Luke Baumbach ,

Congrats on your first property! Privacy has always been a concern for us while working with our rental properties. I have had success setting up LLCs to move properties out of my name, and I use a PO Box for any Investment Property related matters. 

I wholeheartedly agree with @Tammy Mason , introducing yourself as the 'Landlord' is the better way to go versus the 'owner'. 

Unfortunately, a quick 10 minutes of google search and you can easily find out the owner of an LLC.

Good luck!

Hi Luke, congratulations! I agree with everyone above: Set up an LLC, get a PO Box, etc. The biggest thing that I can say is just act professional. Don't give people a reason to find out who you are. I hate the term Landlord myself, just say you're the Property Manager for the LLC. Go to Fiverr and get a simple logo made, get professional looking forms (applications, leases, etc) so it looks like you're a business. The other big thing is to screen your Residents hard. If you catch any whiff of crazy, find someone else. It shouldn't be hard in most rental markets right now. Those are the people that will try to track you down.

Register an LLC using a registered agent. I set one up in February and it took about 10 minutes and $200. The LLC was created, filed with the state, and the only contact information on the filing is the name of the registered agent. You can't tell that I'm attached to it. Want to check? Go find the owner of Proverbs 3:9 Investments LLC in Wyoming.

Once the LLC is set up, set up an LLC bank account and give the renters some deposit slips so they can drop the money off at the bank. or set up online payments through direct deposit, Venmo, Cozy, TenantCloud, or some other system.

Get a PO Box and route all correspondence there. 

Get an email for the LLC.

Set up an LLC phone number. You can create a Google Voice number for free and set it to only take voicemail messages. You listen to the message and decide when to respond.

Just think it through. There's a way to do everything anonymously. Yes, a really savvy tenant could still find a way to track you down, but there's almost no reason for them to expend that time or energy.

@Luke Baumbach , this is sort of a personal investment philosophy question in some ways.

I think everyone wants to protect their contact information if they plan to have any number of rentals. So, I understand wanting a PO Box or perhaps use a google voice number for tenants to contact you through.

As for wanting tenants to think you are not the owner, I ask why? If you want to self manage wouldn't you want to be honest and expect tenant to be honest in return. Are you concerned tenants will complain or ask for things if they know you are the owner? They might! However if you want to self manage isn't this EXACTLY the kind of thing you are signing up to deal with.

Treat people how you would want to be treated. You want tenants who are honest, give them the same. 

@Luke Baumbach I completely agree with @Kevin Sobilo that as a landlord we expect honesty from our tenants, so lying about ownership sets a bad standard. Ultimately your tenant will find out you are the owner and catch you in a lie. Now you are shady in their eyes and you undermined trust. They can justify their own bad behavior, because you are not honest yourself.

This "fear" comes down to landlords not wanting to feel responsible for issues. They think it is easier to say, "I will talk to the owner", but it is a cop-out for not having the skills or courage to deal directly with issues. 

Most people are bad at confrontation and people have an irrational need to be liked (fear of rejection). They want the tenant to think they are a good person and maybe even be friends. Saying "no" is difficult for people like this. They want to blame someone else when a situation gets uncomfortable. This type of person is not a good leader, not a good manager and not an effective landlord or property manager. 

The best way to deal with problems is directly. If a tenant asks, "Can I get a cat?" it is far better to say "No, I am sorry our policy doesn't allow cats." versus saying "Let me check with the owner". Being an effective property manager means having policies and procedures for dealing with all requests. Never say, "I don't know". If in doubt, say no because that is probably the right answer anyways.

If you really can't deal with tenants and feel you need to shield your identity, you should put your property inside a legal entity and hire a property manager. It is impossible to hide your identity if you self manage.

That doesn't mean a landlord self managing should not take steps to protect their privacy and reduce liability. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Get a PO box for your mailing address. This is the address you put on the lease.

2. Use Google voice or get a business phone number that is separate from your private number.

3. Set boundaries and rules for interacting with tenants. Tell them your business hours. Set expectations on responses for non-emergency requests. 

4. Have good liability insurance.

5. Conduct inspections that include safety issues like checking fire alarms, etc. Respond to any safety related request immediately and document response.

6. You may consider legal entities for protection, but if you are actively working as the property manager, this will not shield your identity and will make it harder to protect you from liability. It is hard to separate the personal from the business when you are the one managing. 

If a tenant wants to find out who owns the property or where you live, it is fairly easy to do in most situations. Public records and basic internet searches reveal tons of information. Anonymity is near impossible, so the best hope is putting up small road blocks to make it harder for someone to find you. 

I actually find that tenants knowing I am the owner is beneficial. When you say no, they know there is nobody to appeal to. They know because you own the property, you care very much what happens. It is easier to blow off an employee than it is when you are dealing with the owner.

Don't expect to be friends with your tenants. Don't be afraid to say no. Seek their respect, not their friendship. Respect comes from treating people fairly and honestly. 

I also forgot to mention that a lease is a legal contract between two parties. If you expect to enforce that contract in court, your name or your business entity needs to be on that lease. Even if you hire a property manager, you still need your name or entity on the lease. If the contract is between the PM and the tenant, what happens if you choose to get rid of the PM? 

Talk to your attorney about this or anything contractual.

Don't agree with those that recommend telling tenants you are the owner. NOTHING GOOD COMES OF IT. If a tenant finds out you are the owner the following can and may happen:

1) If you don't agree to whatever they want, they will find out where you live and appear there. Maybe even threaten you. HAPPENED TO ME! We were evicting a tenant for nonpayment and they thought they should live for free. I wasn't home, so they intimidated my wife.
2) They will try to plead, cajole and threaten you into instant decisions. Sometimes, we all need time to think through our options. Being able to say, "Let me discuss with the owner and get back to you" has saved us from bad decisions numerous times.
3) They may try to impersonate you or ID theft you in regards to utilities, junk mail for new credit cards sent to the property in your name, etc. 

If you put the property in an LLC and tell a tenant you are the PM, you are actually 100% telling the truth because the LLC is the owner.

Yes, someone can find out you were the owner if you bought in your name (with conventional mortgage) and then transferred to the LLC. But you'd be surprised how many tenants won't look this up:)

Regarding the name on the lease, typcially most states require the owner's name on the lease as the landlord and any PMC's name as the agent for the owner. So, if you put in an LLC you can put the LLC as the landlord and your name as the agent for the landlord.

@Luke Baumbach

I had the same question starting out. I was younger than any of my tenants and was living at the properties for a year.

I decided to just be honest and say yeah I own the place. If you don’t buy in an llc (which I didn’t) it’s public record so they could figure it out if they wanted too. And for what? What’s the advantage of lying to them?

I could see this being of some importance if your plan is to be an absentee landlord who doesn’t take pride in the property and differs all maintenance and doesn’t fix things when they come up.

For most of us that’s not the case. My tenants see me out there putting the work in for them to have a nice place to live and they appreciate it.

Just my 2 cents. Best of luck!

There are  a lot of great recommendations above, but it doesn't have to be something too complicated.

I like to keep things simple, since I'm not the sharpest tool in the drawer. I just tell my tenants I am the property manager and they believe me. From my experience, tenants are not going to go through the trouble of looking up your info on the county GIS to figure out who owns their house. 

And even if they do, you could still get around it. 

K.I.S.S.

-BA

 

@Luke Baumbach I had the same concern and I live onsite of my MF so certain banks allow for business accounts as long as it has your name in the title, ie luke properties or Baumbach holdings, etc. Its a DBA,. not to be confused with an LLC, and does not provide legal protection. Its a booking and business move. I say Im one of the owners but have partners to answer to and thus far it has worked.

I say Im one of the owners but have partners to answer to and thus far it has worked.

Even  if you don't have partners you likely have someone you consult with now and then.

So you could call it stretching the truth, versus saying I don't own it, when you do. Which would be false. I like it.