In today’s highly-connected (and litigious) society, landlords need anonymity more than ever, to avoid both lawsuits and personal attacks by bitter tenants. When you evict a tenant for committing a crime on the leased premises, or even for failing to pay the rent, do you really want them to know where you live or work?
Here are six tips to remain relatively anonymous, so it won’t be obvious to vindictive tenants and greedy attorneys where they can track you down to sue you or throw a brick through your family’s living room window.
1. Own All Rental Properties Through an LLC (or Other Legal Entity)
Limited liability companies or LLCs are inexpensive ways of separating your business from your personal finances, the original concept being that when someone sues the business, they can’t also seize your personal assets like your home, car, baby’s crib, etc. There is some minor setup work involved, which can be done without an attorney by simply looking up an Articles of Organization form for your state (most states provide them for free), filling it out and filing it with your state’s department of assessments and taxation (which may have variations on that name). There is usually a small fee from the state (usually $100-200), and most states require annual fees to keep the LLC active.
You will have to name a managing member; ideally you don’t want to list your own name as the managing member, as this name can be easily found by attorneys looking into the LLC. A spouse (perhaps under their maiden name) is one option, or better yet someone else entirely, using an address other than your home.
2. Receive All Rents & Correspondence at a PO Box
Post office boxes are quite cheap, usually in the $75/year range, and the USPS now allows you to list the physical address instead of listing the address as a post office box (e.g. “101 S. Main St, #493” instead of “PO Box 493”). For a small extra fee, they can even forward your mail from your PO box to your home or office. This prevents tenants from knowing your home or work address, so they can’t simply show up with a service of lawsuit notice (or a chainsaw). For even more privacy, there are private mailing boxes as well, which generally cost more but often offer additional services. (For more information, read our article on Why PO Boxes Are a Landlord's Best Friend.)
3. Use an Anonymous Phone Number that Reroutes Calls to Your Cell
There are free services out there like Google Voice that let you create a free local number that simply reroutes calls to your cell phone. Many services also allow you to use this number for outgoing calls, or you can always use *67 to block your number from appearing on caller ID.
4. Always Refer to Yourself as the Manager, Not the Owner/Landlord
After going through all this work to hide the identity of the owner/landlord, it would be pretty bone-headed to tell the tenant that you’re the owner, wouldn’t it?
5. Never Connect with Tenants on Social Media
While property managers of large apartment complexes should be doing everything they can to connect with tenants, owners need to be careful to keep barriers in place between themselves and their tenants (those very property managers are, themselves, a buffer). After all, your social media has a lot of information about you, your work, your family, your home and perhaps even a few ill-conceived complaints about how your tenants are driving you crazy.
6. Never Let Tenants Visit You at Home or Work
First, you should be visiting your tenants at the property, to check up on its condition, instead of lazily letting the tenants come to you. But if a time comes when it is impossible for you to go to the property and the tenant must come to you, always meet in a public place, like a coffee shop or café.
While a dogged attorney will be able to “pierce the corporate veil” and figure out who actually owns the property eventually, the idea is to make it hard enough that tenants and lawyers either don’t bother pursuing you or give up relatively quickly. Make it more trouble than it is worth to come after you, and suddenly a lot less trouble will come a-knocking.