(New York, NY) — In response to a reported investigation by federal prosecutors, real estate developer Kushner Cos. said in a printed April 19 statement that it has “nothing to hide and is cooperating fully with all legitimate requests for information.”
On March 18, the Associated Press reported that the Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants’ rights watchdog group, found that the Kushner Cos. falsified permits claiming the firm housed none of the 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants, counted by HRI, in New York City. But tax documents relating to the properties show that, in fact, there were more than 300 rent-stabilized units.
On March 19, New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres said to reporters that he and Aaron Carr, executive director of HRI, would launch a joint investigation into the matter.
Carr said that by concealing its rent-stabilized units across the city, it would be easier for Kushner Cos., once headed by Jared Kushner before he became a senior advisor to father-in-law and U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017, to bully lower-paying tenants and oust them in favor of higher-paying ones. Had the paperwork been filed correctly, the rent-stabilized tenants would have been entitled, by law, to rights such as limitations on rent increases by landlords.
“The falsification of building permits is not merely about bureaucratic paperwork. It poses a profound threat to the affordability of rent-regulated units, which is the largest form of affordable housing in New York City,” said Torres, who chairs the city council’s Committee on Investigations and Oversight.
Christine Taylor, spokeswoman for Kushner Cos., told Reuters on March 19 that the joint investigation was trying to create an issue “where none exists.”
Kushner Cos., which holds around 20,000 multi-family residentials and 13 million square feet in office, industrial, and retail space across the city, was founded by Kushner’s father Charles in 1985. Kushner took over in 2005 after Charles pled guilty to charges including false tax returns and illegal campaign donations and was sentenced to two years in prison. Even after he departed for the White House, Kushner retained a stake in many of the firm’s properties.
“There are few things more despicable than placing tenants at risk in order to make a buck. Allegations that Kushner Cos. filed false paperwork claiming it had zero rent stabilized tenants in its buildings are serious,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a March 19 statement, following the remarks by Torres and Carr. “If true, the company potentially removed important protections for those tenants, likely enriching itself at their expense. These allegations are particularly disturbing given the city’s affordability crisis.”
According to the city website, the housing crisis is rooted in the “erosion” of New Yorkers’ purchasing power in the housing marketplace.
While income for renters across the city has increased at snail’s pace over the last 20 years, the average monthly rent for an apartment has increased by an upward of 40 percent, according to the city website. There are also more than two extremely low-income and very low-income households for every one housing unit that is affordable to them.
“The Council will continue to do all that it can to build and strengthen protections for rent regulated tenants,” Johnson said in his statement. “We must fight any attempts to jeopardize affordable housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.”