2023 The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

Who owns the Bay Area?

About the Project

Housing access is a major issue in the Bay Area, but many landlords operate in relative obscurity. The Chronicle’s property ownership package investigated the largest landlords and made it easy for readers to understand property ownership in their communities.

Our reporting is grounded in an unprecedented dataset of owner names, mailing addresses, and other details for every property in the nine-county Bay Area – about 2.3 million unique records. We requested property tax rolls from each county assessor and painstakingly standardized the data to combine all counties in a single file. With the resulting file, we identified the most common owner names and mailing addresses in the region. We also used California Secretary of State business registration data to begin to identify properties owned by the same entities through subsidiary LLCs.

The first article in our package identifies 12 of the Bay Area’s largest “power players” in residential real estate, housing tens of thousands of families in nearly 7,000 assessor-defined properties. The owner networks on our list represent a diverse array of investors — from single-family rental giant Invitation Homes, to luxury apartment investor UDR Inc., to mobile home operator and California water baron John Vidovich.

The second article focuses on Veritas Investments, a company well known as the largest landlord in San Francisco but, at first glance, not present in assessor records. Veritas offers a case study in the lack of transparency in property ownership – reporting requirements are lax, data is messy, and many owners create separate LLCs for each parcel. We show the reader how Veritas Investments doesn’t appear in the dataset until you know how to look.

The final article in our package interactively guides readers through identifying the owner of a property. The map displays basic details for every property in the region. What makes our map unique compared to online people search tools is that it connects properties with the same owner or mailing address, allowing users to see the scale of a property owner’s holdings.