Forming a limited liability company (LLC) is a popular way to own and operate a business, as they are inexpensive and easy to form. Finding an LLC's owners, however, can sometimes be challenging. Still, an LLC's ownership information is sometimes available online through business record searches or secretary of state websites in the states where the LLC was formed. While there is no guarantee of finding an LLC's owners, these are some good ways to start.
Beginning the Search for an LLC Owner
According to UpCounsel, the law requires an LLC to register in the state that it does business in, so it will usually have its owners on record with the secretary of state's office. Using the search option on a secretary of state's website should return an owner's name, provided the person searching has the correct name of the business. It's also important to remember that some LLCs have fictitious names to cover their business' branches.
Those searching for an owner can also look for a business' articles of organization, a document that establishes the LLC and sometimes lists the names of the members and owners. Another way to find LLC owners is to contact the state where they initially registered the business if it operates in more than one market.
Secretary of state offices have a database of every business in their state with varying levels of information; some are more basic than others. In California, for example, the secretary of state has a registry of businesses with the owner's name and address as well as their partners' names.
Searching a Secretary of State's Database
While there are private searchable database companies online, finding the owner of an LLC can become a costly enterprise and yield information that is either out of date or incorrect. This can also be accomplished through a secretary of state's website for free. Not all of these sites are the same, but they operate much in the same manner.
Search pages may have tabs that read business, business search, corporations or business binder. Clicking on any one of these may open a search bar or a search icon. Once this is visible, the person searching can enter the full name of the LLC, which should lead to several options, including a business' articles of incorporation, which can reveal its owners and its annual report filings.
Sometimes LLCs may be foreign (out-of-state) entities. In this case, navigation to the original state website is a good bet for finding information. Every state is different regarding what it provides and how to find it – some states have only basic information. In contrast, other states have all the member's names, contact information and the information of the business's registered agent. If a state does not provide a way to search for a business name, the person looking for it can file a public record request with the applicable state agency, but there may be a fee for this search.
Trade Name and Trademark Searches
Businesses can register a trade name with their home state. This name sets the business apart from another business or person in the eyes of the public. Owners of a business can sometimes reveal themselves through their trade name registration. Similarly, business owners often have to file for, or register, a trademark, with a graphic symbol or logo associated with that business. It acts to identify and distinguish that entity from another individual or company.
According to People's Law in Maryland, companies register their trade names and trademarks through the state's Business Express database, which may include the business owner's information. Most states have a search option for trade name and trademark information.
Searching a Personal Property Tax Database
Businesses also must file tax returns and pay annual taxes on their property, such as machinery, equipment and furniture, and this public information is also usually searchable online. For example, the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) taxes business entities of all kinds and collects taxes based on their property location. A property tax database will show the business' principal office in that state and may also show who the LLC's registered agent is.
When looking up a business in Maryland, the SDAT lists the principal office by address but not by phone number. Individuals can find a phone number by searching the internet with that address. Once found, they can call the business and ask whoever answers the phone who owns the LLC.
Conducting a Regulatory License Search
Some businesses need a regulatory license to operate in their home state. The Department of Labor issues these licenses in Maryland and has a searchable database of licensed individuals and their locations. Many occupations need licenses to practice their profession in addition to a business license, including:
- HVAC technicians.
- Interior designers.
- Landscape architects.
- Land Surveyors.
- Real estate brokers, salespeople and appraisers.
- Sports agents.
The LLC may also belong to an industry trade association with an online directory containing information about its member businesses. Looking on the LLC's website or social media pages may reveal the identity of the owner of the LLC. The person looking for this information can contact the business and simply ask for it.
Financial Institutions and Fictitious Names
If the LLC is a business operating within the finance industry, states have financial regulators with searchable databases. For example, Maryland's Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation has available information on banks, credit unions, consumer loan, sales finance and mortgage companies, and collection agencies. This type of database might also lead to names of business owners.
In some instances, an LLC has a fictitious name that is different from that of the owner. Some states, like Maryland, require that a business owner contact its Department of Assessments and Taxation to reserve a fictitious name. To do this, they must provide the full legal name and address of the business as well as the type of business it is. This information may also lead to the discovery of the LLC owner's identity.
Visit a Government Office in Person
Sometimes going to a secretary of state or county clerk's office in person can yield positive results when attempting to identify an LLC's owner, according to Prospect Now. Not all county clerk's offices have LLC information on hand, so it is best to call ahead before visiting.
Going to a state or local administrative office may not be desirable, but it can have benefits. For example, a person who requests information often can form relationships with employees, who may give them preferential treatment and help them cut through the red tape. When attempting a search in person, it is important to remain polite and professional throughout the process, as it may take some time to get the desired results.
- UpCounsel: How to Find an LLC Owner: Everything You Need to Know
- People's Law: Six Resources for Finding Information About a Business
- Maryland.gov: Registrations & Filings Business Search Business Entity Search
- Maryland.gov: Home
- Maryland Department of Labor: Licensing Queries - Maryland Department of Labor
- Prospect Now: How to Find Out Who Owns an LLC
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.