State Senator Michael Gianaris wrote a letter to the Department of Buildings on March 22 calling on the agency to issue a stop-work order on all projects by Kushner Companies after an Associated Press report found evidence of falsified paperwork.
The report, which was published on March 19, found that Kushner Companies — repeatedly falsified city paperwork to mask the number of rent-regulated apartments in three Astoria apartment buildings that were purchased in 2015.
The company was previously owned by Jared Kushner, who stepped down as CEO of the company last year before becoming an advisor to President Donald Trump. Jared Kushner retained stakes in Westminster Management, a subsidiary that oversees Kushner Companies residential properties, including the buildings in Astoria, AP reported.
After buying the properties in 2015, Kushner Companies was reportedly able to sell the three buildings for $60 million in 2017, almost double what it paid. The company filed paperwork with the city claiming that it had no rent-regulated tenants in 34 buildings that it owned throughout the city.
In Astoria, according to the AP report, the company checked a box for construction permits in 2015 indicating that there were no rent-regulated tenants in the buildings. The buildings were located at 23-15 30th Ave., 23-05 30th Ave. and 21-80 38th St., according to documents provided to QNS by the Housing Rights Initiative, which compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with AP.
Councilman Costa Constantinides, who represents Astoria, called the move “despicable” and said he would work with City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Committee to investigate the allegations. Now, Gianaris is saying the city should take additional steps and stop the company from performing any construction until an investigation is completed.
“While you conduct your investigation, the Kushner Companies should not be permitted to continue working on existing projects,” he said in the letter. “I urge the Department of Buildings to issue an immediate stop work order on all current Kushner Companies projects until the conclusion of this investigation. Bad actors should not be allowed to benefit when they clearly flout rules meant to level the playing field for our community by protecting tenants.”
By falsifying these documents, the company escaped stricter city regulations when they began construction in the buildings. AP spoke to current and former tenants in Astoria who said they experienced banging, drilling, dust and leaking water that they believe was used to force them out.
“It was noisy, there were complaints, I got mice,” tenant Rudolph Romano told AP. “They cleaned the place out. I watched the whole building leave.”
Romano also told the wire that Kushner Companies increased his rent by 60 percent. The company told AP the previous landlord initiated the rent hike. Romano was able to hire a lawyer and avoid the rent hike and he still lives in the same building with his wife and four kids.
After examining tax records, AP found that of the 94 rent-regulated units in the three Astoria buildings, only 25 remained rent-regulated by 2016.
A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings told AP that a contractor who filed false documents in two of the Queens buildings was disciplined and that the agency was hiring 72 new inspectors to crack down on harassment.
“This is a serious investigation, the outcome of which will affect thousands of New Yorkers,” Gianaris wrote. “The Department of Buildings needs to send a message to the Kushner Companies and all other developers who seek to violate the public trust that allegations such as these will be taken seriously and damages will be assessed anytime there are violations.”