BY SAM RAPPAPORT
The construction practices of the Kushner Companies are being scrutinized following recent reports that the development firm falsified construction permits with the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB).
An independent investigation by the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) found that the Kushner Cos. had allegedly fabricated 80 work permit applications across 34 buildings over a four-year period. According to HRI, the falsified documents, which allegedly incorrectly stated that the company’s properties were without rent-regulated apartments, helped the development firm push out rent-stabilized tenants through construction harassment. Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations, opened his own probe into the Kushner Companies’ practices, and the DOB followed suit.
The three Kushner properties that have garnered the most attention from the investigations are all located in Astoria. Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said that he plans to work with Torres on the investigation.
“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.”
The Kushner Companies’ actions subject to investigation were carried out while President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner was CEO of the firm. Although Kushner has left the position, he retains a stake in the company.
According to city documents, in January 2015, Kushner Companies acquired three rental buildings—located at 21-80 38th St., 23-05 30th Ave. and 23-15 30th Ave. The company allegedly filed work permits that falsely listed none of the properties as rent-regulated. A joint statement from Torres and HRI states that from 2015 to 2016, there was a 31 percent drop in the number of stabilized units in the property at 21-80 38th St., a 74 percent drop in stabilized units at 23-05 30th Ave. and a 64 percent reduction in stabilized units at 23-15 30th Ave. The statement claims that if Kushner Companies had indicated there were rent-stabilized units in its portfolio, the DOB would have closely scrutinized the work. The firm sold all three properties on April 4, 2017 for 50 percent more than it paid two years earlier.
“We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants—no matter who they are,” a DOB spokesman said. “Landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to keep their buildings safe, and we will use every resource to fight bad actors who don’t live up to those obligations. The city’s Tenant Harassment Task Force is investigating the Astoria buildings and DOB penalized the architect who made the false filings.”
In a letter to the DOB, State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) called on the agency to issue stop-work orders on current Kushner Companies projects.
“While you conduct your investigation, the Kushner Companies should not be permitted to continue working on existing projects,” Gianaris wrote. “I urge the [DOB] to issue an immediate stop-work order on all current Kushner Companies projects until the conclusion of this investigation.”
A spokeswoman for Kushner Companies characterized the DOB’s investigation into the firm as an attempt to create a scandal out of thin air.
“Kushner Companies values all of our tenants and takes our legal and ethical responsibilities very seriously,” the spokeswoman said. “Our development team has renovated thousands of apartments with minimal complaints over the past 30 years. If mistakes or typographical errors are identified, corrective action is taken immediately with no financial benefit to the company. The investigation is trying to create an issue where none exists. Kushner Companies did not intentionally falsify DOB filings in an effort to harass any tenants.”