By Bill Parry
The City Council plans to launch a probe into the real estate venture formerly run by White House adviser Jared Kushner that allegedly falsified documents on rent stabilized tenants in three Astoria buildings as well as numerous other locations around the city.
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) will pay close attention to the findings of the Oversight & Investigations Committee, which will investigate the Kushner Companies’ purchase of the buildings at 21-80 38th St., 23-05 30th Ave. and 23-15 30th Ave. in 2015 and filing of city documents claiming they had no rent-regulated tenants even though there were hundreds.
Current and former tenants in the three buildings told the Associated Press, which broke the story over the weekend, that they saw rents double and they were “subjected to extensive construction, with banging, drilling, dust and leaking water they believe were part of targeted harassment to get them to leave and clear the way for higher-paying renters.”
Kushner Companies claims all its government filings are handled by a third party subject to independent review.
Jared Kushner is married to President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is a senior adviser to the president.
“Falsifying records in order to increase profits while taking advantage of hardworking Astorians is despicable,” Constantinides said. “Our rent regulation laws protect New Yorkers from tenant harassment and intimidation, including exorbitant rent increases. Kushner Companies’ blatant disregard for our regulations simply to make a profit demonstrates disrespect for our community and our residents who have called this neighborhood home for years.”
A review by the Housing Rights Initiative discovered Kushner Companies filed false applications for building permits indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants in their 34 buildings in New York City from 2013 to 2016 while tax documents showed there were more than 300. Kushner did not sign any of the documents, according to Aaron Carr, founder of the Housing Rights Initiative, but he was CEO of the family company during that time.
The report shows Kushner Companies eventually sold the three Astoria building for $60 million, more than 50 percent more than what the company paid for the three properties.
“Our office will research the possibility of strengthening these regulations by increasing penalties and opening up possible additional legal remedies for tenants,” Constantinides said. “I will work with Council Oversight & Investigations Committee Chair Ritchie Torres as he examines this flagrant violation of the law.”
Torres said the city’s Buildings Department should have spotted the false filings because they were contradicted by tax document filed with a different city agency.
“The scandal is not only the deception of Kushner Companies, the scandal is the dysfunction of the city bureaucracy,” he said. “The right hand of city government didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said it was looking into the allegations and planned a meeting with tenant representatives.
“It is imperative that this is investigated to get to the bottom of what happened and it’s also imperative city agencies share information with each other and with the public,” state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said. “Rent control is an important safety net for many tenants and the fact that it can be abused, simply because agencies are working in silos, is inexcusable.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr