New York to probe Kushner Cos. over lawsuit that claims tenant harassment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday unveiled an investigation into whether Kushner Cos., the real-estate firm owned by the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, violated housing laws and regulations by harassing tenants.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal said that its Tenant Protection Unit has launched an investigation at the Austin Nichols House in Brooklyn into allegations brought in a lawsuit that Kushner Cos. engaged in a campaign aimed at pushing rent-stabilized tenants out of their apartments by starting construction projects that created toxins, attracted vermin and made loud noise day and night.

“Governor 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,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, in a statement. “In New York, no one is above the law, and we will thoroughly investigate the appalling allegations of harassment at this or any related property and hold anyone found guilty of such abuse responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”

The lawsuit, brought by tenants of the Austin Nichols House, alleges that the noise created by construction work started shortly after Kushner Cos. bought the converted warehouse apartment building, which is located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, according to the Associated Press. Tenants claim the noise was so loud it made conversation impossible. An AP investigation found that in the past three years, more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments, equal to 75% of the building, were emptied or sold, allowing the firm to convert them to luxury condos. Sales so far totaled more than $155 million, said the AP. The suit is seeking $10 million in damages.

Kushner Cos. responded to a request for comment by saying that the lawsuit is totally without merit and that it will defend itself vigorously.

“The residents of Austin Nichols House were fully informed about the planned renovation and all work was completed under the full supervision by the New York City Department of Buildings and other regulatory agencies, with full permits and with no violations for these claims,” the company said in a statement.

It added that complaints made during the construction, which was completed in 2017, “were evaluated and addressed promptly by the property management team.”

The news comes just months after a New York City Council member and a separate tenant’s rights group said they were launching an investigation of Kushner Cos. over a report that it regularly falsified building permits.

That March probe was announced by politician Ritchie Torres and Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), a tenants’ rights watchdog, at a press conference outside Kushner Cos. New York headquarters on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. It came after the Associated Press reported that Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with New York City, declaring it had no rent-regulated tenants in buildings it owned, when it actually had hundreds.

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That strategy allowed the company to move in and conduct extensive construction and renovation that tenants claimed was targeted harassment aimed at driving them out to clear the way for higher-paying renters, said the AP.

Torres said the Department of Buildings should have identified the false documents as soon as tax documents showed they were wrong. The politician said he was in confidential talks with prosecutors.

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Kushner Cos. said at the time that it outsources the preparation of those documents to third parties, with review by independent counsel. “If mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately,” the company said.

Read more: Kushner Cos. is facing investigation for filing false building permits

The news comes just days after a report that Jared Kushner still lacks the highest security clearance, and has been blocked from seeing parts of Trumps daily brief. Experts told the Washington Post that that could severely hamper him from doing his job.

In May, Kushner finally received a permanent security clearance after more than a year in his White House position. But the Post reported he only has “top secret” clearance, which prevents him from seeing the most classified materials.

Kushner has been interviewed twice by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, and his name has come up on a number of occasions in the Russian meddling investigation.

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