Records obtained from the City of New York show that Kushner Companies, the real estate company owned by the family of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner falsely filed dozens of documents that allowed it to nuisance tenants in buildings owned by the company with loud construction conducted at all hours, dusty conditions and leaking water. Tenants believe the tactics were deliberate, an effort to get low-rent paying occupants to move out, making way for higher-rent-paying tenants.
The Associated Press reported that Kushner Cos. alleged that the company had zero rent-controlled tenants in thirty-four buildings across New York between 2013 and 2016 when the company had more than 300. Rent-controlled is a New York City buildings designation that protects tenants from large rent increases. Tenants in rent-controlled apartments also pay significantly lower rents than tenants in market-rent units.
Housing Rights Initiative, a tenant-advocacy organization, found that in all, Kushner Cos. filed at least eighty false applications for construction permits on which the company indicated that there were no rent-controlled residents living on the sites, a declaration that allowed the company to bypass stricter oversight of construction crews as well as potentially, unscheduled sweeps by inspectors making sure tenants are not being harassed by landlords.
Some of the tenants of the buildings owned by Kushner Cos, allege the company ordered construction crews to perform loud and disruptive repairs in the middle of the night, in order to get them to leave. Tenants who vacate rent-controlled apartments free management companies up to raise the rent by thousands of dollars a month.
“I know it’s pretty horrible, but we can help you get out,” a tenant of a six-story building in Manhattan’s East Village recalls a man saying who knocked on her door. “We can offer you money.” That tenants says she turned the cash down and instead filed a lawsuit, winning a year’s free rent and a new refrigerator.
Other tenants though do not appear to have been so lucky.
Kushner Cos. bought a group of three apartment buildings in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in 2015 where most of the tenants were in rent-controlled apartments. At the time Kushner Cos. took the buildings over there were ninety-four rent-stabilized apartments. Two years later there were twenty-five. The company sold the buildings at that time for $60 million, nearly 50% more than it paid.
The President’s son-in-law was CEO of Kushner Cos. during that time and while none of the documents in question bear his signature, the revelations offer some insight into the ethos of the company.
Kushner Cos, in a statement, said that it outsources the preparation of the documents in question to a third party and that they are reviewed by independent counsel. “If mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately,” the company says.
“Kushner would never deny any tenant their due-process rights,” the company added, saying that they “…renovated thousands of apartments and developments with minimal complaints over the past 30 years.”
The penalty for submitting false documents to the city’s Department of Buildings is a misdemeanor that carries with it a fine of up to $25,000. But real estate experts say the rules are often broken with little to no consequences. Most of the time the City demands that landlords file amended forms with the correct information. Human Rights Initiative found that Kushner Cos. amended dozens of forms for the buildings in question, most of them a year or two later.
New York City’s Department of Buildings said that it disciplines contractors who file false documents and that it has added seventy-two new inspectors to its work force under new, recently-passed laws aimed at combating tenant harassment.
“We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants,” Department spokesman Joseph Soldevere said, “no matter who they are.”