Friday, December 23, 2011

Who owns vacant properties in Baltimore?

I received many ideas for my free software project and ultimately settled on one suggested by Kate Bladow: a tool to help identify potential slumlords in Baltimore. It's specifically designed to help Baltimore Slumlord Watch investigations, though that anonymous blogger has nothing to do with this tool (he or she has to do complete investigations of each property before writing a post). This is more like an experiment to use all available data to identify people and companies who may own a large number of vacant properties.

The tool combines data from three sources:
  1. State of Maryland Real Property database: to get a complete list of every property in Baltimore, identified by a block and lot number (this database, unlike #2, allows wildcard searching, which is how we get the complete list). Includes a truncated field listing the owner name.
  2. Baltimore City Real Property database: to find the complete owner name and mailing address.
  3. Baltimore's Vacant Lots and Vacant Buildings open data sets. The anonymous slumlord watch blogger says that these are not very accurate or up-to-date, but hopefully they are good enough for us to identify who the main offenders are.
I applied a few cleanups and transformations to make the data more useful, and used the excellent Google Refine tool to try and reduce the noise I found in the Owner Name column. Many entities were listed under a variety of spellings, punctuations, and abbreviations, which Google Refine helped me combine. Thanks to Mark Headd for recommending Google Refine to me.

Below you will find a few lists of the top property owners in Baltimore gleaned from these tools.

Important Caveats
  1. Some properties are owned by companies using a series of one-up numbered company names (like "N# Inc." or "NB1 Business Trust", "NB2 Business Trust", etc.  I used Google Refine's clustering feature to combine similar names on the assumption that these are probably controlled by the same people. In the cases where I did this kind of grouping, I used sentence case instead of upper case or I replaced digits with the # sign.
  2. Many properties are owned by a uniquely-named LLC (like "1 E. Montgomery LLC"). One person or company could own a significant share of the vacant properties in Baltimore via shell corporations like this. One potential way to get around this is to look up the incorporation paperwork for each company (also available as a scrapeable database), but I'm assuming if you're smart enough to use shell corporations you're probably using a different company to be a registered agent. So this technique would probably only help us identify the main registered agents for the vacant property owners in Baltimore.
  3. I haven't done a great deal of authenticating or verifying. All I'm trying to do is make this data more discoverable/explorable. Obviously you should do your own homework before acting on any of this information.
  4. I was really surprised to see how much property is controlled by the city. Even if the absolute numbers below are inaccurate the relative amount is pretty amazing. I'd like to see the city take some bold leadership on doing something with all of those buildings and lots. How about a revival of the dollar home program?
  5. I only focused on properties listed as non-owner occupied by the State of Maryland.
  6. The Slumlord Watch blogger says that the city's vacant building data is inaccurate and not up-to-date, so there may be false positives and negatives in the list.
Largest Vacant Property Owners in Baltimore, Grouped by Name
Owner#  Vacants
Baltimore City1407
UP# BUSINESS TRUST38
SS# BUSINESS TRUST25
JAMES E. CANN24
NB# Business Trust24
State of Maryland19
2008 DRR-ETS, LLC18
BALTIMORE RETURN FUND, LLC18
EAST BALTIMORE DEVELOPMENT LLC18
COMPOUND YIELD PLAY, LLC17
CE REALTY, LLC. & EPHRAIM WEINGARTEN16
KONA PROPERTIES, LLC16
CE REALTY, LLC15
J.A.M. numbered corporations15
BALTIMORE PREFERRED PROPERTIES LLC14
DRUID HEIGHTS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION14
HOLABIRD INVESTMENTS, LLC14
NEW HORIZON DEVELOPMENT, LLC14
DOMINION PROPERTIES LLC13
COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS, LLC12
M&S JOINT VENTURE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION12
MAHS-BE HOLDINGS, LLC12
BALDWIN TRUSTEE, LEROY11
HARRISON DEVELOPMENT, LLC11
HUD11
CHESAPEAKE HABITAT FOR HUMANITY INC10
KGB numbered corporations10
University of Maryland10
L.A.M.B., INC.9
REBUILD AMERICA, INC9
CARTER, NATHAN8
EQUITY TRUST COMPANY8
KREISLER, SANFORD8
LAMB, DERRICK8
N-#, INC.8
OAKMONT DESIGN LLC8
SANDTOWN HABITAT FOR HUMANITY8
DOMINION RENTALS, LLC7
GREEN, CARL7
HARBOUR PORTFOLIO7
LEO, CAROLINE G.7
N10 BUSINESS TRUST7
NEIGHBORHOOD PROPERTIES-4, INC7
SAUNDERS TERRAINE7
EAST BALTIMORE DEVELOPMENT, INC6
APP CONSULTING GROUP, LLC6
DJ LAND CO, LLC & WODA GROUP LLC6
EMERALD BAY DEVELOPMENT GROUP & ONE, INC.6
FIRST NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, LLC6
JOHNSON, MARTIN6

You can also download the entire list of non-owner-occupied vacant building owners in Baltimore.

Largest Vacant Lot Owners in Baltimore, Grouped by Name
Baltimore City2926
B&D PHASE III, LLC64
METRO II OLDHAM, LLC & SUNNYS ASSOCIATES, LLC42
CAMDEN ASSOCIATES, LLC.40
HARBORVIEW LIMITED PARTNERSHIP NO. #35
State of Maryland32
LOWMAN ST.,LLC31
Oblate Sisters of Providence27
BG&E23
COMPANY, LLC & FEDERAL HILL HOLDING & SCC CANYON II, LLC23
ATLAS MD I SPE, LLC & BB&T BANK (CREO), ATTN: T. GEORG19
J & J PARTNERSHIP, INC.19
Baptist Church18
SANDTOWN HABITAT FOR HUMANITY18
NANTICOKE INVESTMENT CO., LLC17
L.A.M.B., INC.15
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC. & TAX DEPARTMENT13
DRUID HEIGHTS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION13
SINGER PARK & PLAY, INCORPORATED13
STATION PLACE LLC13
TRIMARK MANAGEMENT13
ASSOCIATION, INC & MCHENRY POINTE HOMEOWNERS12
Benedictine Society of Baltimore12
CHESAPEAKE HABITAT FOR HUMANITY & INC12
JUBB JR, WALTER H & JUBB, EDWARD H12
CASTLEWOOD COMMUNITIES, LLC11
MOUNT SINAI BAPTIST CHURCH & OF BALTIMORE CITY11
MARYLAND JOCKEY CL10
CONVENTION AND AUXILIARIES & OF BALTIMORE, INC. & UNITED BAPTIST MISSIONARY9
DUNN, GREG9
RIVERSIDE WORK FORCE LLC9
BALTIMORE URBAN LEAGUE, & INC.,THE8
C&P TELEPHONE COMP8
CORPORATE SECRETARY, AMTRAK & NATIONAL RAILROAD & PASSENGER CORPORATION8
DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION & DRUID HEIGHTS COMMUNITY & JACQUELYN D CORNISH8
FRP HOLLANDER 95, LLC8
HOLABIRD PARK APTS. INC8
MUELLER HOMES, INC.8
NEWSTAR DEVELOPMENT AT CANTON & PEAKS, LLC8
SCARFIELD SR, FRANK D8
THE KCR DEVELOPMENT GROUP & SPICER'S RUN HOMEOWNER ASSOCIATION
BALTIMORE SCRAP CORP.7
BRIGHTON DEVELOPMENT GROUP & LLC7
CHURCH, THE & VESTRY OF MOUNT CALVARY7
FLAG HOUSE RENTAL I, L.P. & METRO PLAZA II7
FOWLKES, ROBIN7
PARADIGM BUILDERS, LLC & RICHARD MIRSKY - OFFIT KURMAN7
URBAN HEALTH INSTITUTE OF & WASHINGTON, THE7
CANN JAMES E6
CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED OF THE & LORD, INC, THE6

You can also download the entire list of non-owner-occupied vacant lot owners in Baltimore.

The Raw Data
All data used to create the above table can be downloaded from Github, including the raw CSV data.

The Code

It's creative-commons licensed and posted on Github. It's pretty raw and unfactored. I ran it all from irb. It needs to be converted into a Rake task or other command-line friendly, totally-automated package.

Next Steps
  • We could get this up and running on ScraperWiki to have the data constantly updated.
  • We could run an Amazon Mechanical Turk project to create an up-to-the-minute database of vacant houses in Baltimore, using Google Street View. We could just ask each worker to use street view to make an estimate of whether the house was vacant or not. I'm sure there would be some inaccuracy but the data ought to be good enough to help further investigations.

5 comments:

The Dental CPAs Team said...

Well done Mike.

Baltimore Slumlord Watch said...

A lot of those LLCs are the same guy -- which is typical. Strengthening Maryland's LLC laws would help to put a stop to one guy being in control of hundreds of shell LLCs.

This is great -- can't wait to use it.

Hunter Barrington said...

Love the mechanical turk idea as a follow up. Also great project!

P Johnson said...

Great work by Mike! I've contemplated doing the same thing in the past. But looking at the data you can tell it isn't a comprehensive list as I'm sure Baltimore City owns more than the 2926 entries he found. And I think also show that the city vacant property list is indeed not comprehensive.

Rob Turnbull said...

Wondering how this would look in GIS. Often times boundaries showing devolving neighborhoods have a high vacancy/rental rate. If these boundaries are obvious and not part of a geographic feature (such as a river, public park or hill) they can be inspected and maybe an identifiable method for stopping or reversing low quality neighborhoods can be found.
You never really stated why you were identifying who owned all of the buildings. Maybe I didn't read far back enough to get the full back story. What's the purpose?
I find neighborhood quality very interesting. With high vacancy and rental rates there is little or no pride in ownership, but if if isn't too far gone it can be reversed and neighborhoods can be recovered. Also, potentially, strategically purchasing properties at a discount in neighborhoods that have been identified as recoverable would be lucrative. Sorry, just rambling, but I wouldn't mind getting the addresses of these properties and matching them up with U.S. Census demographic overlays and seeing what pops up.