Top 5 Worst Corporate Landlords (Corporate YIMBYs Win Honorable Mention)

Billionaire corporate landlords Sam Zell, left, and Steve Schwarzman

As corporate landlords keep setting sky-high prices in the rental housing market, tenants are getting slammed by unfair rents, more evictions, and more homelessness. Known for their predatory business practices, corporate landlords also shell out huge amounts of campaign cash to stop tenant protections. Politicians too often fail to talk about the widespread damage caused by Big Real Estate, so we’re going to change that — with our Top 5 list of the worst corporate landlords. Corporate YIMBYs, who carry out the real estate industry’s greed-driven, trickle-down housing agenda, win a well-deserved honorable mention.

For this list, we’re focusing on the worst corporate landlords in California. But these companies usually operate in cities across the United States. For example, Equity Residential owns rental properties in such places as Denver, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C., and New York — as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.

Corporate landlords jack up rents wherever they operate, looking to grab obscene profits and please investors. Other predatory landlords in a rental housing market follow their lead, and start charging excessive rents, too. They do all this at the expense of middle- and working-class residents, who can’t pay skyrocketing rents and struggle to make ends meet — to the point that many face the prospect of homelessness. It’s why Housing Is A Human Right maintains that rent control will rein in corporate landlords’ unreasonable rents and actually save lives. Here are our Top 5 worst corporate landlords.

Honorable Mention: Corporate YIMBYs

When it comes to any list about Big Real Estate, Corporate YIMBYs will always grab at least an honorable mention. They try to pass as housing justice activists, but they’re really the street-level shock troops for Big Real Estate and Big Tech, which also embraces the real estate industry’s devastating trickle-down housing agenda. With YIMBY groups all over the U.S. pushing pro-gentrification, pro-Big Real Estate legislation, they’re as destructive as corporate landlords. Tellingly, Corporate YIMBYs are almost always silent, if not always silent, about Big Real Estate’s predatory tactics. That’s not a coincidence. Corporate YIMBYs rightly earn an honorable mention.

5. AvalonBay Communities

AvalonBay Communities, a Wall Street real estate investment trust, is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, and led by executive chairman of the board Tim Naughton. The National Multifamily Housing Council ranks it the fourth largest apartment owner in the U.S. This corporate landlord tries to operate under the radar, but we’ve caught Naughton and his gang numerous times delivering mountains of campaign cash to kill rent control and other tenant protections. In 2018, AvalonBay Communities shelled out $4.2 million to defeat California’s Proposition 10, a statewide ballot measure that would have allowed localities to expand rent control policies. It was backed by a broad coalition of housing justice groups, social justice organizations, labor unions, and elected officials. (Corporate YIMBYs, of course, refused to endorse the initiative.) In 2020, AvalonBay spent more than $8 million to stop California’s Prop 21, which again aimed to allow localities to expand rent control. (And again Corporate YIMBYs refused to endorse.) And we found that AvalonBay delivered at least $55,515 in campaign cash, between 2019 and 2020, to the California Apartment Association, the powerful landlord lobbying group. The CAA then sends that money to California politicians on the city, county, and state levels to stop tenant protections. AvalonBay Communities is bad news for renters.

4. Essex Property Trust

Based in San Mateo, California, Essex Property Trust is another Wall Street real estate investment trust and the twelfth largest apartment owner in the country. It’s led by chief executive officer Mike Schall. To mention only a few things, Essex Property Trust aggressively jacked up rents in a large apartment building where fixed-income seniors lived, which forced them out of their longtime homes. The corporate landlord was also sued for improperly raising rents and allowing bad living conditions. Schall and crew led the charge to stop Prop 10 and Prop 21. Essex Property Trust was the top contributor to the No on Prop 21 campaign, shelling out more than $15 million. It was also the leading contributor to No on Prop 10, delivering more than $8 million in campaign cash. Like AvalonBay Communities, Essex Property Trust is a major donor to the California Apartment Association, which Big Real Estate uses to kill tenant protections throughout the state.

3. Invitation Homes

Invitation Homes is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and led by chief executive officer Dallas Turner. It’s also a Wall Street real estate investment trust. The list of outrages connected to Invitation Homes is long and varied, which is why we wrote the article “Is Invitation Homes the Worst Corporate Landlord in the U.S.?” In fact, the top three worst corporate landlords on this list could all grab the top spot — it’s a close one. Let’s just say that Invitation Homes is known for excessive rent increases, aggressive evictions, and poor living conditions. It was even cited in a United Nations report for its predatory practices. Invitation Homes, of course, was also a major contributor to the No on Prop 10 and No on Prop 21 campaigns, successfully killing both of those rent control ballot measures. An Invitation Homes tenant summed its way of operating: “You either pay these fees and settle with us or we’ll make you homeless, or we’ll ruin your credit with an eviction. That is the threat renters live under!”

2. Equity Residential

Equity Residential, based in Chicago, was co-founded by billionaire Sam Zell (pictured above, left). It’s a Wall Street real estate investment trust and the fifth largest apartment owner in the nation. Zell is another one with a long and ugly history. Rather than list all the disturbing details here, read our article “Is Billionaire Landlord Sam Zell the Quintessential Corporate Vulture?” But to give you some idea of the billionaire, he’s known as the “grave dancer,” making obscene profits off the misfortune of others. Equity Residential was also a big-time contributor to the No on Prop 10 and No on Prop 21 campaigns, shelling out $5.2 million and $11 million, respectively, in cash. Zell and his gang are still at it — Equity Residential delivers major contributions to the California Apartment Association to influence city, county, and state politicians. In the meantime, while renters struggle to keep their apartments, Zell lives in posh homes in Chicago, Sun Valley, New York, and Malibu.

1. Blackstone Group

Headquartered in New York City, Blackstone Group earns the honor of worst corporate landlord. Co-founded by billionaire Steve Schwarzman (pictured above, right), Blackstone, another Wall Street real estate investment trust, was deemed one of the key players in fueling the global housing affordable housing crisis by United Nations researchers. That’s right, global. Again, its list of offenses is long, so we recommend reading our special report: “Modern-Day Robber Baron: The Sins of Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman.” Blackstone and its subsidiary at the time, Invitation Homes, was one of the top contributors to No on Prop 10. For Prop 21, Schwarzman and his gang tried to be slick and avoid public scrutiny by using a shell committee to funnel cash to the No on Prop 21 campaign. But we caught them, which we explain in the article “Why Are Billionaires Stephen Schwarzman and Geoffrey Palmer Using A Shell Committee to Kill Prop 21?” Blackstone has long been one of the leading corporate landlords in making unbelievable profits at the expense of middle- and working-class renters. In 2021, in fact, Schwarzman made a staggering $1.1 billion in salary and dividends while many Americans struggled to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congratulations, Blackstone. You are officially the worst corporate landlord.

As an endnote, now one can see the company that Corporate YIMBYs keep. Don’t be fooled by them. They’re pushing a pro-Big Real Estate, trickle-down housing agenda that further enriches corporate landlords. Corporate YIMBYs are not housing justice activists.

For more information, read our free book: Selling Off California: The Untold Story.

Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this story, is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.

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Housing Is A Human Right is the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. We fight for what’s right.

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Housing Is A Human Right

Housing Is A Human Right

Housing Is A Human Right is the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. We fight for what’s right.

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