The family real estate firm previously headed by President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is accused of exposing families to cancer-causing dust and forcing out tenants to convert rent-stabilized units to luxury condos, according to an investigation reported by The Associated Press and a $10 million lawsuit tenants planned to file on Monday.
"We've looked into hundreds of rent-stabilized buildings and this is one of the worst we've ever seen."
—Aaron Carr, Housing Rights Initiative
Tenants and housing rights advocates assert that, as the AP details, "relentless construction, along with rent hikes of $500 a month or more, was part of a campaign to push tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments and bring high-paying condo buyers" to the Austin Nichols House, a former warehouse in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn that is one of the Kushner Cos.' largest residential buildings in New York City.
"We've looked into hundreds of rent-stabilized buildings and this is one of the worst we've ever seen," said Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of the watchdog Housing Rights Initiative, which is assisting with the suit. "The scale and speed of tenants leaving, the conditions to which they were exposed, provides a window into the Kushner Cos.′ predatory business model."
Since the Kushner Cos. acquired the building in 2015, the AP found that "more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments—75 percent of the building—were either emptied or sold" as the firm converted units to condos that have sold for an average of $1.2 million each and netted the company more than $155 million.
The Kushner Cos., in a statement, denied harassing tenants to pressure them to leave but acknowledged that it received some construction-related complaints. The statement claimed the firm responded to complaints immediately, and that "tremendous care was taken to prevent dust and inconvenience to tenants."
However, as the New York Daily News reports, the lawsuit brought by 19 tenants claims that the construction to convert the building exposed tenants to dangerous dust and led to "chronic rodent infestation, illegal noise, sporadic flooding, loss of hot water, broken windows, holes in the walls, lack of security, [and] accumulation of mold."
Banging, drilling, dust, rats: Kushner Cos. tenants say relentless, noisy construction was used to push them out for luxury condo buyers. Read more here: https://t.co/xnaOHu4kDc pic.twitter.com/cBxzjpb69q
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 15, 2018
More than a dozen former and current tenants told the AP that construction "started early in the morning and went on until nightfall," and "so much dust wafted through ducts and under doorways that it coated beds and clothes in closets. Rats crawled through holes in the walls. Workers with passkeys barged in unannounced. Residents who begged for relief got a standard reply, 'We have permits.'"
"They made the building as unlivable as possible so they could get everyone out of there.” Kushner Cos. renters say relentless construction was used to push them out for luxury condo buyers.https://t.co/qg3DNVUOgR pic.twitter.com/298EjBsylj
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) July 16, 2018
Tech salesman Marcus Carvalho left his home of six years in December, after deciding that he didn't want to pay an additional $1,000 in rent to renew his lease and "didn't want to spend another minute in that construction zone."
"There were consistently people in the hallway early, eight or so, banging on things, taking down walls. There was lots of dust," Carvalho said, describing the construction. "They had fans, and they were blowing dust under the doors."
That dust "turned up dangerously high levels of lead and crystalline silica," according to samples analyzed by Olmsted Environmental Services, which was hired by the tenants who filed suit. Exposure to those toxins has been linked to various health conditions, including lung cancer and liver disease. The Kushner Cos. disputed the environmental analysis.
Zephyr Teachout, a Democratic candidate for Attorney General in New York, tweeted these types of "horrifying allegations" are why she doesn't accept campaign contributions from limited liability companies, the Real Estate Board of New York, or industry lobbyists:
Horrifying allegations. Cases like this are why I do not take any LLC money, REBNY money, or real estate lobbyist money. https://t.co/h74Wn7rkps
— Zephyr Teachout (@ZephyrTeachout) July 16, 2018
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced Monday afternoon that the state is launching an official investigation into the tenants' allegations.