The family real estate company co-owned by White House adviser Jared Kushner repeatedly filed false reports with New York City concerning rent-regulated tenants in an effort to push them out of the buildings and boost profits, an investigation by The Associated Press found.
Hundreds of Kushner Cos. tenants were protected by city law from being hit with major rent hikes or forced out by a new owner. However, the company “routinely” filed false paperwork saying buildings had no rent-regulated tenants, AP reported.
According to city documents — obtained by the tenant watchdog group Housing Right Initiative — at least 80 fraudulent applications were filed for construction permits in 34 buildings from 2013 to 2016. They all stated the buildings had no rent-regulated tenants, when in fact they included 300 rent-regulated units, according to tax documents, AP reported. Kushner was CEO of the company during that time.
In one case, Kushner Cos. filed false statements about tenants in three buildings with 94 rent-regulated units that it purchased in Queens in 2015, reports AP. After the company displaced most of the residents, it sold the buildings two years later for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than their purchase price, according to AP.
A statement from the company to AP said that a contracted third party, not Kushner Cos., was responsible for filing the paperwork. Any errors discovered were addressed “immediately,” it added. “Kushner Cos. would never deny any tenant their due-process rights,” the statement said. Housing Rights Initiative said several amended documents were filed after the initial paperwork but often as long as one or two years later, by which time many tenants were gone.
Accurate paperwork would have afforded building tenants more city help and supervision of construction and landlord treatment. Instead, some tenants reported they were urged to get out or forced to live amid the disruption of ongoing construction work as the Kushners prepared to boost rents or sell a building.
New York City Council member Ritchie Torres called the Kushner strategy a “weaponization of construction.”
Jared Kushner stepped down from his role as CEO last year, but still holds major stakes in a number of family real estate holdings. He maintains a holding in Westminster Management, the Kushner Cos. subsidiary that oversees its residential properties. He earned $1.6 million from that business alone, according to Kushner’s financial disclosure filing last year.
Westminster Management has been hit with a class-action lawsuit by tenants who say that rents in 15 Baltimore-area buildings were padded with mysteriously added fees or late fees as part of a ruse to evict them when the money wasn’t paid. In January, a federal judge ordered the family to reveal the identities of the real estate operation’s business partners. The family then took action to move the case out of the judge’s jurisdiction to state court. The company has denied the accusations.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly looking into Jared Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for family real estate operations from foreign investors during the presidential transition that may have impacted his work in the White House.