The state probe came after 19 current and former tenants filed a $10 million lawsuit Sunday against Kushner Cos. The court action argues that residents were subjected to endless hours of dangerous construction conditions beginning in 2015, including toxic dust, noise, flooding and rodent infestations, while they continued to live in the 338-unit building, the New York Daily News reported. Tenants say it was a strategy to drive them out of their rent-regulated apartments in the Austin Nichols House in the Williamsburg neighborhood of the New York City borough so that renovated units could be sold as luxury condominiums.
An investigation by The Associated Press found that Kushner Cos. was able to clear out 250 residents in three years so their apartments could be sold, earning the firm $155 million in sales. Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, purchased the property with two investors three years ago, according to AP.
The state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency, which regulates affordable housing in New York, launched an investigation Monday into the tenants’ complaints.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes,” department Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said in a statement. “In New York, no one is above the law.”
It’s illegal for landlords to undermine or trash tenants’ living conditions in an effort to drive them out.
The nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative, which helped tenants research the building situation, complained that the state investigation was abysmally late.
“It was Kushner Companies’ failed morality that exposed children to lead, and it was New York state’s failed policies that exposed tenants to Kushner,” HRI founder Aaron Carr said at a news conference Monday. “Kushner is bathing in the swamp that Cuomo has failed to drain.”
Carr told AP that behavior at the Kushner property was among the worst he has seen in the city. “The scale and speed of tenants leaving, the conditions to which they were exposed, provides a window into the Kushner Cos.′ predatory business model,” he said.
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. Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump’s real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $811 million, according to their latest financial filings, released in June.
A Kushner Cos. statement said the complaints are “totally without merit.” Tenants were “fully informed about the planned renovation and all work was completed under the full supervision” of government agencies. “Tenants were never pressured to leave their apartments.” Complaints were quickly addressed, the statement said.
Earlier this year, the New York City Council initiated an investigation into HRI data that Kushner Cos. filed false tenant documents that dodged rent laws and boosted profits.