Legal loophole makes it difficult to enforce building codes and pursue claims
In February 2014, a fire inside a building listed as vacant to suffer a structural collapse. One wall that fell claimed the life of an 8-year-old child. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but perhaps the greater mystery is who owns the building.
The rowhomes involved in the case are owned by a limited liability company, or LLC. According to Maryland law, LLCs are not required to list their owners. Owners may publish their information if they so choose, Mallon & McCool, LLC lists their partners on their own website, as well as in public records, but the owners are not mandated to do so. This is part of what differentiates an LLC from a corporation, who must have a board of directors on record with the state business authority.
As a result, LLCs can operate virtually anonymously. In the case of the rowhouse, the only contact information was a mailbox at a UPS Store, who only had the LLC’s name on file, leading to an informational dead end.
This anonymity makes it difficult for state agencies to ensure building codes are being upheld. While fines can be issued and other injunctions placed, if there is no individual to hold accountable, it can be nearly impossible to achieve quick results. If an LLC is abandoned, then someone may never be held accountable.
Legislative efforts to change the law have been blocked by lobbyists on behalf of contractors and landlords, who claim that forcing LLC owners to publish their information will drive business out of the state. In the meantime, however, plaintiffs seeking to file a claim against an LLC may find it difficult to identify who should be held accountable for problems with their property, security, personal injuries or other legal concerns.
In these cases, working with an attorney can be helpful. An experienced law firm will have other avenues of investigation to assist in finding property owners. Their lawyers also have a better understanding of property law, and can help you determine what sort of compensation you are eligible for. The attorneys at Mallon & McCool, LLC in Baltimore provide legal representation and support for people dealing with landlords and property owners, including those hiding behind an anonymous LLC. They encourage anyone struggling to identify their property’s owner to contact their Baltimore office at (410)-727-7887, or toll free at (800) 918-8872.