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I have heard, that in the United States, some individuals are able to conceal their identities from the public when purchasing a home by setting up a LLC and buying the house through the said corporation.

Is this true? and can someone explain how this might work?

Remark: I ask the question, for it seems to me that it should not be difficult to find out who the owner of any given LLC is.

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    "Remark: I ask the question, for it seems to me that it should not be difficult to find out who the owner of any given LLC is." There are many states that make it extremely difficult, and there can be chains of ownership through multiple states. Just google for 'anonymous ownership llc' and things like that. For example, upcounsel.com/how-to-hide-ownership-of-a-company Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 21:34
  • We speak of the "veil" of incorporation. It can literally be so with an Anonymous LLC. However a court may "lift the veil".
    – mckenzm
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 23:34
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    @mckenzm That's something different. Lifting the veil doesn't refer to finding out who is behind a company. It refers to ignoring the liability protection, tax benefits, etc. that the corporation provides i.e. treating the person behind the company in the same way as if there had never been a company.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 8:20
  • I lived in Rural America (colorado) for a while. One of the neighbors was a lawyer. When I went to the county website to see who owned the property, the name showed as a notice that something like "Send written request to ..." I could not read the entire thing. Maybe someone else knows what that is?
    – Scottie H
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 0:47

3 Answers 3

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Is this true?

Yes.

can someone explain how this might work?

You can form an LLC, and then fund it with money that would be used to purchase the home, and buy the home in the name of the LLC.

One minor exception is that a handful of rural U.S. states prohibit limited liability entities from owning farm land, so if the home is part of a farm or ranch, this could be prohibited in those states.

If there is a mortgage, this is more difficult, but not impossibly so. The primary debtor on the mortgage would be the LLC. Ordinarily the owner of the LLC would be required by the bank to guarantee the mortgage, but loan guarantees do not necessarily have to be made a matter of public record.

If the LLC has only one member, it is disregarded for income tax purposes, so that isn't a problem. There may be issues in this case of a house not qualifying for residential property tax treatment in some cases (which is often a lower rate than commercial real estate). There is also sometimes an issue that property owned by an LLC isn't eligible for a "homestead exemption" of equity in the home from creditor's claims. It may also be treated differently in terms of eligibility for means-tested benefits like Medicaid nursing home coverage. But, it is allowed.

I ask the question, for it seems to me that it should not be difficult to find out who the owner of any given LLC is.

In the U.S., the owners of a manager managed LLC are rarely disclosed in the public record (although about half of U.S. states require one or all of the members of a member managed LLC to be disclosed). But all U.S. states allow LLCs to be manager managed.

Also, all U.S. states are required as a matter of constitutional law to all LLCs organized in a state other than the state where the LLC owns real property or operates to do business in that state. States can imposed regulations on out of state LLCs to some extent, however.

The main exception to these general rules is California.

Although the California Articles of Organization do not list the members of the LLC in the Artiles, California requires the LLC to file a Statement of Information within 90 days of the approval of the LLC. The Statement of Information does require a list of the LLC's members, and it does become public record.

Records of LLC ownership are maintained in the private internal records of the LLC. A contact person, called a registered agent and sometimes the managers of the LLC with authority to act on its behalf must be publicly disclosed, but neither of these posts has anything to do with ownership. Many states also require the "organizer" of the LLC to be disclosed, but that doesn't have to be an owner of the LLC either. Often it is a lawyer or accountant for the LLC.

It will be necessary to disclose the ownership to federal tax officials, and often also to state tax officials.

Also, soon, under a newly enacted federal law that has not yet taken effect because regulations have not been written, to federal money laundering officials.

But, both of these pieces of information are confidential and not available to the general public. This information can be obtained by subpoena in pertinent litigation, however, must often be disclosed when filing federal lawsuits, and is often required to be disclosed by counter-parties in business transactions.

Footnote

The U.S. practice is not the global norm. In most civil law countries, for example, ownership interests in entities need to be reflected in a notarized document kept in the custody of the notary involved. In recent times, interests in transparency and avoiding tax evasion and money laundering for terrorism and crime have promoted additional, less decentralized records of entity ownership.

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  • "n the U.S., the owners of an LLC are almost never disclosed in the public record." - [citation needed] - AFAIK, only less than half [ref] do, with WY being the most famous for not making ownership public. Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 14:55
  • Depending on how they are "not available to the general public," those records may also not be available through 'normal' means, like the Freedom of Information Act requests.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 15:35
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    @Mindwin The link is somewhat misleading and the colored in ones are anonymous. Listing an "organizer" is not big deal, often that is simply the lawyer who files the paperwork. It appears that in many states, only member managed LLCs must disclose their members in the public record ("Some states require a member-managed LLC to list the names and address of members (owners) in the Articles of Organization") but not in manager managed LLCs (this includes WY). Also, of course, you don't have to form an LLC under the laws of the state where you reside. You can, for example, use a DE LLC in CO.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 18:39
  • @Mindwin I've updated the answer to reflect your comments and my response.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 18:46
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    @ToddWilcox It is a different question. There are subtle differences but it is beyond the scope of a comment to describe.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 0:41
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This would not work in because companies are required (with some limited exceptions) to publish in a public register all "people with significant control" under Part 21A of the Companies Act 2006. You are a person with significant control if you meet any of the conditions in Schedule 1A. These include:

  • Holding, directly or indirectly, more than 25% of the shares.
  • Holding, directly or indirectly, more than 25% of the voting rights.
  • Holding, directly or indirectly, the right to appoint or remove a majority of the directors.
  • Having the right to exercise, or actually exercising, significant influence or control over the company or over a trust which in turn meet any of the above conditions.

However, you can achieve anonymity in other ways. There is not yet a public register of domestic beneficial owners of property or a public register of trusts. Such public registers are planned for the (possibly near) future however.

By hiring a professional trustee (e.g. a solicitor) to purchase the property on your behalf, that person holds the legal interest and appears on public registers (e.g. the Land Registry). With a correctly drafted trust deed, you own the beneficial interest and are the effective owner in all but name (including the right at any time to collapse the trust and acquire the legal interest). Disadvantages include professional fees and potential difficulties with mortgage lenders (many of whom forbid trusts in their terms and conditions).

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    It turns out that little of this is true in reality. While English and Welsh law isn't so bad, enforcement of that law is basically a swamp of corruption. opendemocracy.net/en/odr/…. Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 21:40
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    @JamesMoore This is a law stack exchange, so answers are limited to the legal issues. Sure, you are free to lie on your declaration of people of significant control, but in doing so an offence is commit under Section 790F of the Companies Act 2006, and the issue of whether or not you are likely to get away with that is off-topic.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 8:15
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    @JamesMoore That's just 1 user's opinion on a Meta question, not a site rule. It's also one with questionable logic. The main point here is that there is a legal answer as to whether or not you can conceal your identity with a company, and that answer is "no". You are always free to commit any criminal offence you like, and you may or may not get away with it, but the question of whether you will isn't a legal question - it's a question of how interested and well resourced the police etc. are.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 14:38
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    @DanielHatton The Land Registry (which is indeed compulsory any time there is a new transaction) is not a register of beneficial owners. It records, among other things, people who hold the legal interest in the land (as opposed to the beneficial interest). For example, if I owned a house in trust for you, my name (legal interest) would be recorded with the Land Regsitry but your name (beneficial interest) would not.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 16:33
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    @DanielHatton And yes, your scenario (offshore company owning the land) would also work as an alternative solution (if combined with a jurisdiction that allows anonymous ownership of companies), although this would come at a significant cost in the form of an extra 2% tax on the value of the property at the point of purchase.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 16:37
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I have heard, that in the United States, some individuals are able to conceal their identities from the public when purchasing a home by setting up a LLC and buying the house through the said corporation.

Is this true? and can someone explain how this might work?

Yes, that's correct, and I've done it successfully.

When I used it, my purpose was privacy - we needed to buy three properties, and we were pinned - no other properties would do. We had two sworn enemies (it was personal) both of whom were expert real-estate traders in our county, and would have locked up the other two properties just to spite us. We got all three, catching them totally by surprise.

And yes, we were opaque. They couldn't have guessed who we were.

Registered Agents

First we must talk about Registered Agents. In order to proceed in a lawsuit, you must serve the other party with notice of the suit. You may have heard of private citizens delaying lawsuits by hiding from the process server. The state won't let you do that with a corporation or LLC. You must have an office with a physical address -- staffed Monday-Friday 9-5 so a process server is assured of finding a person there to serve papers on.

Obviously a "small shop" or holding company doesn't have the resources to do that. So they hire a Registered Agent, a company whose One Job is to staff a desk those hours and contact you if they receive anything. This Registered Agent is the keystone of the deal.

You'd think private mailbox firms like The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc. would be naturals at being Registered Agents - but I rarely see that. The Wyoming one I used was someone's house (at least at the time of the 20/20 TV investigation of them; I lost my mind when they showed a list of aged LLCs just for drama and there was mine.)

Let's go get our LLC

Certain states do not not publish the owners or managers of LLCs. Wyoming is a popular one, so let's go with it. And remember. Your goal isn't just to keep the info private, but to demoralize anyone who's even trying. Thus it helps to use the more famous states, so they stop immediately and give up.

You can hit the Wyoming (or whichever state)'s Corporations website and DIY all the paperwork. But you still need to find a Registered Agent. Knowing this, many Registered Agents in popular LLC states have all the templates ready to set up the LLC for you very cheaply, while also giving you Registered Agent services. Find someone who holds themselves out to do this, one-stop shop and done.

Ongoing, you will pay the Wyoming (or whoever) annual registration fee which is very modest, and the annual fee of the Registered Agent (a few hundred dollars a year).

Next, to do business in YOUR state, you must register as a Foreign LLC in that state. "Foreign" means you're from another state. And you guessed it! Your state will also require a Registered Agent in your state. So you will have two. So you will have a second registration fee.

Ongoing, you will also pay your home-state annual registration fee (often trivial; sometimes outrageous, I think California is $1000-ish?) as well as pay the annual costs of a Registered Agent in your state also.

Now you may think "I can hire a national Registered Agent firm that does this in many states. One stop shop." Maybe. But since that firm does business in your state, they must answer subpoenas from your state courts. That foreign-state Registered Agent, maybe not!

Do you really want this, though

So you do have a considerable annual maintenance expense; 95% of which (in most states) is the cost of two Registered Agents.

Back in our day this amounted to about $500/year. Probably pushing $1000/year now. So do you really want this thing? is a question you ought to ask.

LLCs are also liability shields. Lenders don't like that.

LLCs aren't just for privacy. They are also liability shields. Properly managed, the owners and managers can't be sued for the liabilities of the LLC - they can't lose any more money than they willfully invested into it. So it is a liability stop-loss.

Here's the problem. Mortgage lenders aren't going to like that, because if the mortgage isn't paid, they have no recourse whatsoever against anyone except assets in the LLC and the secured property itself, of course. So they are looking at the value of the property (in a potential downturn market) versus the money lent. And they may be reluctant to write a mortgage without a human co-signer.

I don't know how this goes because we paid cash. However, the issue is that liens are recorded - they are public record at the courthouse. Depending on the state, the lien may expose the name of the human co-signing.

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    Thank you for posting this answer. Actually, I know someone who lives in Virginia, and was thinking of buying a house, but was a little skeptical because the prices haven't declined inversely proportional to the big spike in interest rates. So, he was considering forming an LLC, funding it to purchase a house, and then pay the LLC rent. Should the market prove to be a bubble, and he had to sell at a substantial loss---I imagine he would be limited only by the assets of the LLC, as opposed to an outright personal purchase whereby no such limiting cap exists.
    – DDS
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 1:38
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    @mlchristians Well generally, "selling at a loss" means getting less money at sale than you need to pay off the mortgage. Banks are skittish of LLCs for precisely the reason you say - they don't want to be left holding the bag on the loss. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 2:07
  • You are going to need a human co-signer, but the personal guarantee does n't have to be recorded, only the mortgage which authorizes a claim against the collateral does.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 3:32

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