POLITICS
08/28/2018 08:20 am ET

Kushner Company Fined $210,000 For Lying About Rent-Protected Tenants

Tenant advocates say false paperwork was part of a scheme to drive out renters and cash in on empty apartments.

New York City on Monday fined Jared Kushner’s family real estate business $210,000 for lying on city construction documents about the number of rent-regulated tenants in its buildings, Bloomberg reports.

Kushner Companies has been accused of using construction to drive out tenants and make way for new residents paying higher rents or for people who want to buy the empty apartments.

City law strictly controls rent prices for rent-regulated tenants. Landlords are required to accurately report the number of rent-regulated tenants in their buildings so the city can take steps to protect them from disruptive construction that may be intended to harass them. 

The New York City Department of Buildings fined Kushner Cos. for filing 42 false applications for construction work in 17 buildings, saying there were no rent-regulated tenants in the units, according to Bloomberg. The false claims were filed when Kushner, an adviser to and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, was running the business. 

“Protecting tenants is a key part of our mission to make construction safe for all New Yorkers, and we are determined to hold landlords accountable for the accuracy of their applications — no matter who they are,” said a statement from the Buildings Department.

The company denied it had done anything wrong. A spokesman told The Associated Press that the company relied on “third party consultants” to file paperwork on its behalf. It also said any “errors have been corrected or will be.” The company plans to contest the violations fine, the AP reported.

“In no case did the company act in disregard of the safety of our tenants,” said Kushner Cos. spokeswoman Christine Taylor. 

Tenant advocates in the city have claimed that the Kushners essentially “weaponized” construction, driving out tenants paying lower rent with constant noise, ripped-up apartments and interrupted plumbing. 

It’s illegal for landlords to undermine or trash tenants’ living conditions in an effort to drive them out. 

The city launched an investigation earlier this year after a probe by AP and tenants advocacy group Housing Rights Initiative revealed tenants’ experiences in several Kushner apartments.

New York state has launched a separate investigation into tenant harassment complaints at a Brooklyn building owned by Kushner Cos. Nineteen current and former tenants filed a $10 million lawsuit against the company, charging that they were subjected to endless hours of dangerous construction conditions beginning in 2015, including toxic dust, noise, flooding and rodent infestations.

Kushner Cos. was able to clear out 250 residents in three years from the 338-unit Brooklyn building so their apartments could be sold, earning the firm $155 million in sales, AP reported. Kushner purchased the property with two investors three years ago, according to AP.

Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Cos. when he joined the Trump administration. But he remains a key stakeholder in the company and real estate deals. The real estate holdings and other investments of Kushner and wife, Ivanka Trump, are worth as much as $811 million, according to their financial filings released in June.

Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was accused Monday of having a similar strategy to drive out protected tenants from his buildings. An investigation by Housing Rights Initiative found Cohen also claimed in documents that his buildings were empty but that tax records revealed the buildings were in fact filled with tenants, many of them rent-regulated, The New York Times reported.

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