Is Jared Kushner, the White House Senior Advisor and son-in-law of the President, a slum lord?
That goes to the heart of requests from Maryland’s Congressional Democrats about the business practices of the apartment rental company owned by Kushner and his family business, the Kushner Companies.
While Kushner since January has not played a hands on role in the company in order to meet government ethical requirements, he remains an owner of 17 apartment complexes in Maryland, most of which are in Baltimore County.
At least three of the company’s apartment complexes house tenants who have received HUD Housing Choice Vouchers worth over $6 million, which makes this a federal matter.
Kushner’s firm was told to abide by all HUD rules in a letter sent today by Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Anthony Brown.
There has been controversy around a number of the Kushner properties, according to the Baltimore Sun, for violations of health and occupancy laws
Baltimore city inspectors have found problems in many of the properties including hazardous electrical outlets, damaged steps and evidence of rodent or bug infestation. In almost all cases, Kushner Cos. have made the repairs, but it has raised concerns.
There are also concerns about elevated levels of lead in the drinking water. After Kushner bought the properties, they were required within 10 months to replace aging pipes and faucets which might be leaking lead that could be ingested by children residing there.
There have been several articles about the conditions of the properties. The New York Times reported in May that Kushner Cos have “been a landlord of often decrepit low-income housing.”
It adds that Kushner’s subordinates “aggressively sue tenants for the smallest infractions despite ignoring maintenance needs, and they pursue judgements even when the tenant seems to have been in the right.”
“While landlord-tenant disputes are hardly new,” continues the New York Times, “tenants in Kushner complexes have complained that the company used legal action to hound them on thin or specious grounds.”
“If these reports are accurate,” the Congress members wrote, “they raise very serious and troubling concerns about whether Kushner Companies and its subsidiaries are complying with HUD’s housing quality standards to ensure the safety and health of their own tenants.”
The Kushner Company also has courted controversy by their aggressive efforts to collect rents from current and former tenants, including the use of “body attachment” laws, which allow the arrest of a tenant who has not paid up and failed to show up for a court hearing
“Since 2013, when the Kushner Cos. began their first full year of operations in Maryland,” reports the Baltimore Sun, “affiliates of the firm have sought the arrest of 105 former tenants – more than any other firm in the state – for allegedly failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt.”
Not only have judges awarded the Kushner Cos. a total of $5.4 million in judgments, but they have also added on an average debt of $4,400 for each, and in many cases garnished the tenant’s wages to collect the money.
“Their original average debts were $2,950,” reports the Baltimore Sun, “but lawyers fees, court costs, and interest charges inflated the final judgments.”
In documents filed with Freddie Mac, Kushner properties in the state generate at least $90 million annually. At least 14 of the complexes make at least $30 million in annual profits.
“Community organizers could have helped Kushner tenants like Mamiia Warren of suburban Baltimore, who was sued for moving out of her apartment without giving two months notice despite having done so,” reported the New York Times. “Mr. Kushner’s company won an almost $5,000 judgement anyway, and garnished her wages as a home health worker, and her bank account.”
In addition to business records, property and resident health reports, the lawmakers asked for all communications “between Kushner Companies and the White House,” reports the Baltimore Sun, “including but not limited to communications regarding the management and resolution of Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest.”
The lawmakers have given the Kushner Cos. until September 8 to produce the documents they seek, or at least provide information on how the efforts are going.
By taking his high profile role with his father-in-law, Kushner has put himself in the spotlight and made his companies are target of lawmakers who want to ensure he is playing by all the rules in government and in business.
As part of an administration which has worked hard to take away services for the elderly, children, the handicapped and others, Kushner is living up to his private company’s reputation for being cold hearted and bottom line oriented despite the human cost.
Maybe a court should sentence Jared and Ivanka Kushner and their children to live in one of their apartment complexes for a while to see how it feels to be poor and still be muscled by an out of town landlord with only one interest – to make ever bigger profits.