In October 2022, ProPublica broke a story about a little-known company, RealPage, which was artificially increasing rental rates on apartments. Later that month, lawsuits were filed against RealPage alleging price-fixing and market manipulation. In November 2022, the Department Of Justice opened an investigation into them. This is all based on the research of James M. Nelson, ‘The Man Behind the RealPage lawsuit’. But Who is RealPage and why is this connection important for you to understand?
Who is Harlan Crow?
He is the son of the late development tycoon Trammell Crow (1914 – 2009), the creator of the Trammell Crow Company (TCC). Trammell is recognized as the grandfather of the “speculative building” industry, which he began in 1948. Forbes in 1971 and The Wall Street Journal in 1986 called TCC the largest landlord in the US, and by 1993 they had also become the nation’s largest developer.1
Harlan Crow wields his inherited wealth and politics with great power. In 1999 he co-founded the ultra-conservative Club for Growth, that amongst other achievements, claims to be the driving force behind Citizens United, which opened the door for unlimited dark money in politics. They also invested over $20 million with 42 congress members who voted to invalidate the 2020 election.
In the forthcoming book, the New Landlord, we read: In 2005, at the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession and the ensuing chaos, the Crow Empire was at the center of the financial crash. Crow had violated their own strict policy of not investing in speculative residential land. In the blink of an eye, one of the oldest and largest real estate empires, known as the grandaddy of the construction industry, the titan of Wall Street—the Crow Empire, collapsed financially alongside the non-banking giant Lehman Bros. The collapse would send shock waves throughout the industry resulting in the industry spiraling into the financial abyss.
In 2006 Harlan was removed as CEO of the company, and CB Richard Ellis acquired it. However, their arrangement allows the Crow Empire to operate autonomously. Crow remains one of the largest developers and owners of commercial and apartment properties, with nearly $30 billion in assets under management. Their properties are managed by Greystar, the nation’s largest property manager (nearly a million rental units).
Who is RealPage?
Beginning in about 1998, to bring about meaningful change to the rental industry, Harlan Crow pushed a group of investors to form a consortium comprising of real estate and technology companies to build the RealPage Platform, 2 he is one of its originators.
In 2002 AI-powered platforms like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft entered the $12 trillion rental housing industry. Driving the sector in all 50 states is RealPage, the primary provider of AI technology. They own and operate the industry-wide common pricing platform (referred to as Platform) where up to 95% of all rental units are priced. Through the Platform, landlords access and share all data on their applicants, tenants, and properties. Nationally, they provide pricing for 20 million rental units. Today the rental industry has been wholly transformed into a data-driven economy predicated upon the theory that landlords no longer compete on price.
Harlan Crow’s influence over the rental housing industry is powerful. Greystar CEO Bob Faith detailed that over the decade’s Crow has formed a tight-knit group of managers that now dominate the industry. Just how powerful is that reach? Our concentration study concluded that half of all rental units in the metro Seattle area are priced by a small group of 13 managers who all originated from–the ‘Crow Empire.’
The Class-Action Court Case: RealPage vs. Rental Housing Tenants October 2022
According to the forthcoming book, the New Landlord, the allegations against RealPage are:
- They have formed a monopoly in restraint of trade.
- Market Manipulation and Price Fixing.
- Invasion of their tenant’s privacy, as in the Fourth Amendment and The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.
- They have become the primary cause of homelessness.
- The Platform is designed to circumvent Fair Housing Laws governing housing discrimination.
Unsurprisingly, this allegedly illegal practice is exacting a heavy toll on our society and costing billions to taxpayers as the government bears the burden of increasing homelessness and its associated costs.
RealPage claims that they are doing nothing illegal.
Who is Clarence Thomas?
After graduating in 1974, he became an Assistant Attorney General of the State of Missouri. Then, in 1977 moved to St. Louis, to become a lead attorney for the Monsanto Company until 1979. Monsanto manufactured chemicals, like PCBs, from 1935 until they were banned in 1979. While at Monsanto, Thomas was responsible for negotiating contracts to dispose of highly toxic chemicals like PCBs.
President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1990. Then with barely one year of experience in the judiciary under his belt, Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1991.
The Problem with the Crow-Thomas Relationship
Thomas has been dogged by various controversies his entire Supreme Court career, much over his refusal to step aside and recuse himself when his former employer, Monsanto, brought numerous cases before the court.
In 2010 Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms:
In 2013 Bowman v. Monsanto Co.
However, the cases keep piling up, including one regarding PCBs and their injuries to employees using toxic materials. Despite his obvious conflicts of interest, Thomas has never recused himself from any of these cases.
Breaking News !!! April 2023, ProPublica and numerous news outlets reported that billionaire Harlan Crow has since 1998 spent millions of dollars on vacations and gifts for Clarence Thomas. But this is old news. NBC, in 2011 reported a similar story in detail. Between 2010-2013, while the Monsanto cases worked through the court system, Thomas was accused of taking gifts and social engagements from pro-Monsanto groups.
The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court. These gifts appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures appearing to violate the rule of law.
However, let’s not forget Clarence’s wife, Ginni Thomas
In 2009 it was discovered that she had created numerous organizations, including Liberty Central and Groundswell. By 2011 she took in more than $1.5 million in donations from anonymous sources. Politico would eventually discover that the initial $500,000 of funding came from Harlan Crow. With those funds, she has built an empire of hate where she crusades against minorities and pushes extreme hate campaigns against the LGBTQ community.3
Her hate campaigns target the very people RealPage claims not to discriminate against.
And yet they do.
The RealPage Class-Action Lawsuit will likely be decided by the US Supreme Court
The court cases against RealPage are consequential. For the next one hundred years, it will resolve questions about the landlords’ ability to infringe upon their tenants’ rights to privacy, the landlords’ right to discriminate, and their rights to collude to improve profits.
Chapter 12 of the 2020 released book, Stealing Home: How AI is Hijacking the American Dream, predicted the RealPage lawsuit would end up before the US Supreme Court.
The question becomes, will Justice Thomas recuse himself?
This Blog is from the forthcoming book, The New Landlord, Powered by Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence. Between late 2018 and November 2022, James M Nelson spent over 6,000 work hours on its production. It includes over 2,500 cited references from over 10,000 pages of documents and nearly 500 quotes from industry insiders.
- Douglas Martin, “Trammell Crow, Innovative Developer, Dies at 94,” nytimes, Jan. 15, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/business/16crow.html
- Noreen Seebacher, Globest.com, “RealPage Exec: Software Boosts Rental Rates & Profit,” Globest.com, April, 17, 2009, https://www.globest.com/sites/globest/2009/04/17/realpage-exec-software-boosts-rental-rates-profit/?slreturn=20230318145519 ; Camden Property Trust, 2000 Annual Report, Accessed June 2020, https://investors.camdenliving.com/investors/financials/annual-reports/default.aspx
- Pam Martens and Russ Martens, “Trump and Clarence Thomas Financial Disclosures Prove U.S. Is Officially a Kleptocracy,” wallstreetonparade, May 20, 2018, https://wallstreetonparade.com/2018/05/trump-and-clarence-thomas-financial-disclosures-prove-u-s-is-officially-a-kleptocracy/; and, Campaign Finance Reports Show ‘Super PAC’ Donors,” Jan 31, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/us/politics/campaign-finance-reports-show-super-pac-donors.html