Three corporate landlords from out of state own over 19,000 homes for rent in metro Atlanta — nearly 11% of the entire single-family rental market — according to a new study by Georgia State University and Rutgers University researchers.

What’s more, the three companies — Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners, and Amherst Holdings — effectively anonymize themselves as a protection from legal liability or tenant accountability, “using an extensive network of more than 190 corporate aliases registered to 74 different addresses across ten states and one territory,” according to findings from GSU professor Taylor Shelton and Rutgers professor Eric Seymour, published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

The report, “Horizontal Holdings: Untangling the Networks of Corporate Landlords,” contextualizes the unsettling discovery that Wall Street and private equity investors account for more than a third of the recent single-family home purchases in the metro region. Their incursion has contributed to the drastic decline of intown housing affordability, leaving many prospective Atlanta homebuyers unable to beat cash offers from deep-pocketed investors.

In Atlanta’s core metro counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton, the researchers discovered that Invitation Homes owns 7,861 homes, Pretium Partners controls 7,171, and Amherst Holdings has 4,061.

The report presents a potential strategy for local and state governments to better track the practices of corporate landlords. In the city of Atlanta especially, officials have struggled to track down private property owners when renters raise landlord-tenant issues, such as safety concerns regarding housing conditions.

That’s because corporate landlords tend to hide their identities beneath layers of limited liability companies — or shell companies.

Shelton and Seymour harnessed publicly available property tax data to follow strings of LLCs back to their origins. They hope policymakers can hone their published methods to benefit tenants at risk of corporate exploitation.

“By understanding these properties and their owners as nodes in a broader relational network, it is possible to trace each of the different links to establish the full extent of a given ownership network and the geography of its holdings, both in terms of where those properties are located and where they are owned,” the study says.

In theory, public officials should have no trouble replicating the methodology the new paper breaks down, Shelton said in an interview, but he acknowledged that state law could pose roadblocks.

State ban on landlord registries

Georgia prohibits cities and counties from creating registries to track rent prices and log identifying information on landlords. And while Shelton doesn’t see his research as a template for rental registries, he thinks some state lawmakers may interpret it as such.

“Not only is a significant portion of the state legislature landlords themselves — even on a much smaller scale than these companies we’re analyzing in this paper — there’s an even larger share that may not be landlords themselves who are certainly very friendly to the real estate lobby and skeptical of any kind of government intervention in markets at all, especially housing markets,” Shelton said.

That’s one reason Atlanta has become a magnet for wealthy investment firms that started buying up houses nationally after the 2007 foreclosure crisis.

“Corporate landlords like places that are growing, and they like places where housing is relatively cheap [compared to other major cities],” Shelton said in a GSU news release. “But the other box that Atlanta checks is that we have very lax tenant protections.”

What’s more, he added in the interview, the three mega-landlords spotlighted in the study for controlling almost 11% of Atlanta’s home rental market with over 19,000 homes aren’t outliers when it comes to corporate property owner behavior.

“Both of those statistics bely the actual problem, which is that, at a smaller scale within certain neighborhoods, that number is much, much larger,” Shelton said.

“If you’re someone who has an attachment to those neighborhoods — who needs to live close to them because of your kid’s school, because of your job, because of family responsibilities — these companies are able to exercise a ton of power over your choice in the housing market.”

Atlanta City Councilmember Jason Winston, who chairs the Community Development and Human Services Committee overseeing city housing policy, said the new report “raises red flags.”

“That is a lot of influence to exert, especially for rents in the community and available inventory,” he said in an emailed statement. “This brings with it larger consequences to Atlanta’s ongoing challenge of affordability. There will always be market trends at play, but owning a home in Atlanta remains far too elusive for too many people.”

Renter protections?

Some new renter protections could be on the horizon in Georgia, although no legislation currently in front of the General Assembly aims to temper the influence corporate landlords have over the housing market.

Georgia state lawmakers are now considering adopting legislation that would slightly beef up tenant protections. House Bill 404, the so-called “Safe at Home Act,” which is now before the state Senate after unanimously passing the House, would institute a base-level standard of habitability for rental properties statewide. However, housing advocates have complained the proposal doesn’t even define “habitability.”

Elected leaders at the federal level have keyed in on the corporate landlord phenomenon, but they’ve had little luck achieving reforms: U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) in late 2022 proposed the “End Hedge Fund Control of American Homes Act,” which would have capped the number of single-family homes a corporate landlord can own at 100 — and fined them $20,000 for each extra property.

That bill never made it to a Senate vote in Congress, and it’s unclear whether similar legislation could materialize, especially amid partisan election season chaos. Merkley’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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4 Comments

  1. How do you address all of the wealth that has been transferred to black homeowners who have sold to this funds? Isn't that a good thing?

  2. I was thrown into the swirl of this.
    I lived at my residence for over 10 years and when rent starting going up my non corporate landlord put an eviction notice on my door because he wanted “to move back in his property”. That house house been up for rent at least once per year since I've moved at double or more than what I was paying. I searched and realized the increase in rent and corporate landlords since I had been out of the market for so long. Dealing with Invitation Homes has been a constant headache with notices and violations coming sometimes 3 or more months after the fact, constant late fees when paid even on the 3rd of the month. I don't know how what what Georgia needs to do but PLEASE do something.. my rent as increased each year I've lived here. I just received my renewal notice with a enormous $500 per year proposed increase. There is not help anywhere all programs are tapped out. I am a single mother and do not want us to become a part of the homeless population. SOS

  3. Thank you to the GSU researchers who have brought more light to this rental problem in Georgia. It’s extremely concerning AND disgusting that our own Georgia legislators would allow this to happen to our communities, and indicates that they simply care more about money than the majority of the people who live and work here. It has become a hostile environment when these greedy corporate investors scoop up the homes by paying cash and then jack up the rents. The required earning of “3 times the rent,” and the fact that rent prices now equal 40-50% of many people’s incomes is outrageous. Most people who rent don’t earn the types of salaries to afford the rents being charged. Many folks don’t want to live in unsafe, crime-ridden areas to be able to afford housing. Atlanta is beginning to crumble and it’s very sad, because this used to be a desirable place to live. Not any more!
    Georgia needs better tenant protections and laws to prevent this from continuing to happen. People should complain to our legislators, because they have to record all communications.

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