Housing Advocates Release Database of Serial Evictors for Tenants

Evictorbook is meant to be a tool for tenant organizers in San Francisco and Oakland to fight back against corporate landlords.
Housing Advocates Release 'Evictorbase' Database of Serial Evictors for Tenants
Screengrab: Evictorbook

On Tuesday, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP)—a data visualization project focused on documenting urban displacement and resistance—unveiled a new tool: the Evictorbook, a database of corporate landlords in San Francisco and Oakland that identifies evictors, their shell companies, additional rental properties, and eviction patterns.

“As they did after the 2008 housing crash, investors and corporate landlords have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to buy up housing across the country,” the team behind Evictorbook writes on its website. “This disproportionately harms communities of color and limits opportunities for homeownership. Evictorbook is a tool communities can use to combat the systemic racial and economic inequities within our housing system and ensure that housing is for people, not corporate profit.”


While tracking corporate landlords is a matter of public interest, it's relatively hard to do because of the byzantine corporate maze of limited liability companies and limited partnerships they build. This can not only obscure who your actual landlord is if you're being harassed or your rights and protections are being violated, but it also confers a plethora of self-dealing financial benefits to landlords.

Consider just one method highlighted by Evictorbook: "These corporate landlords can create five shell companies and sell [a property] through each of them, lowering the sale price each time. In this way, a home valued at a million dollars may be eventually valued at four hundred thousand dollars, and be taxed at lowest property value. Of course, when they sell, they'll pass it right back through and raise the price."

You can search Evictorbook by address, property owner, neighborhood, or through a corporate network bound by common shell companies or rental properties or owners. Take, for example, one corporate network mapped out by Evictorbook with a major San Francisco landlord at the center. The owner has at least 25 business entities under their name, which are connected to 10 properties, which are connected to about 6 property owners. All of this is connected to one business address.

It’s exciting to see the development of tech that empowers tenants given just how much landlords have at their disposal. Landlords enjoy access to bureaus and databases that allow them to discriminate against applicants, have managed to get COVID relief aid yet still squeeze tenants with rent hikes, and surveil anyone that happens to cross the boundary of the private fiefs that landlords, well, lord over. 


In a recent paper by Anti-Eviction Mapping Project co-founders Erin McElroy and Manon Vergerio, the pair paint a horrifying picture of how New York City landlords have used low-income, public, and affordable tenant housing as a laboratory for biometric and facial recognition technology. Thanks to an unholy alliance of “landlord tech investors, venture capital, conferences, and products deployed locally and globally,” there’s been a largely successful effort to automate evictions and gentrification by targeting non-white households with surveillance tech developed in low-income housing, then provided as an amenity in other housing.

One important thread of this paper is the question of why so much time and money goes into technology constructed mainly to surveil and discipline certain populations. 

After 2008, policymakers nationwide, but particularly in New York City, were busy trying to attract tech investors and startups as part of a new legitimation narrative. In doing so, however, they created a new financial asset out of tenants and their housing, as well as a new set of incentives to intensify the exploitation of renters. 

“Over the years, the proptech industry has strategically taken advantage of crises like the subprime crisis and 9/11 to push housing financialization and surveillance systems,” McElroy told Motherboard. “Corporate landlords have rolled up more and more of the housing market, while implementing more surveillance and screening technologies alongside property management systems to ensure they don’t experience the sort of losses their tenants are experiencing. They’re pursuing profits while tenants continue to suffer, exploiting invasively collected data to increase those profits, and also seeking aid from the state even as covid relief for tenants goes straight to the landlord.”


As Desiree Fields argues in a 2019 journal article, "such advances have given rise to what I term the 'automated landlord', whereby the management of tenants and properties is increasingly not only mediated, but governed, by smartphones, digital platforms, and apps, and the data and analytics these devices and infrastructures gather and enable." 

Surveillance technologies aimed at tenants and their properties could now generate data for not just landlords, but real estate developers and investors interested in increasing returns by cutting costs or hiking rents, and also flipping and consolidating properties and portfolios. Members of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project have referred to this and other related developments as “speculation technologies.”

“It also includes new modes of housing financialization, membership-based housing platforms, short term and intermediary length rental infrastructure, tech-owned housing, and more—all of which diminishes tenant rights and protections,” McElroy, Wonyoung So, and Nicole Weber write in one article for Shelter Force, a community and housing publication. “Speculation tech serves to automate housing financialization, mechanizing processes of housing being made an asset rather than a space of shelter and community.”

So, landlords were able to manage properties at scale, but in the process of pursuing more expansive and granular digital technologies for extract rents also helped accelerate the financialization of tenets and their housing—and incentivize even greater surveillance, data consolidation, and rent extraction for post-2008 investors looking for outsized returns.

The law hasn't been much help here either. Eviction moratoriums passed during the COVID-19 pandemic were notoriously weak and regularly ignored by landlords greedy (or confident) enough to harass and terrorize tenants. That hasn’t stopped people from taking matters into their own hands, though. Tenants have been able to organize in the meantime form tenant unions, collectively buy and run buildings themselves, fight real estate developer predations by targeting large investors bankrolling them, and mount community defenses against illegal evictions. 

“Landlords and property managers know so much about tenants, but we’re still struggling to even know the names of these owners. This is a way to help level the playing field,” McElroy told Motherboard.

Evictorbook, as well as other tools aimed at pulling back the veil on corporate entities that dominate something as essential as housing, are invaluable for activists hoping to fight back against this class of investors and speculators. This is even more urgent as they’ve seemingly subordinated the entire political apparatus to accommodate their desire to turn housing into a lucrative asset, instead of a human right.