NEW YORK - A real estate firm with ties to President Donald Trump's son-in-law illegally collected more than $4 million in rent from tenants in four New York City apartment buildings while failing to maintain working fire sprinkler systems, says a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Tenants in the Kushner Companies' four adjacent East Village tenements say the firm has filed false documents with the city, endangering the lives of residents with illegal construction aimed at maximizing company profits.
The Kushner Village residents want a Manhattan Supreme Court judge to block the company from collecting rent until the city's Department of Buildings has approved a certificate of occupancy to certify the buildings' safety and compliance.
"Kushner Companies' real estate empire is an empire of fraud," said Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenant watchdog group, which investigated conditions at the East 9th Street buildings. "Kushner is a morally bankrupt degenerate that is swimming in the swamp that New York City has failed to drain."
Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, ran the company his father founded until he stepped down as chief executive when he joined the White House in 2017.
Although Kushner was running the company when it acquired the four buildings in 2013, he was not named in the lawsuit.
He still retains interests in multiple investments and received $1.65 million in income last year from Westminster Management, a unit of Kushner Companies, according to his financial disclosure form.
According to the new lawsuit, Kushner Companies representatives "have badgered tenants for rent payments, despite the COVID 19 epidemic raging at the time."
The lawsuit alleges that the company used tactics that "were intended to, and did scare tenants of the Subject Buildings into paying rent that was legally not collectable, during the COVID 19 epidemic."
"This is just more of the same politically motivated harassment," Kushner general counsel Christopher Smith said in a statement. "Each of these properties has been certified by the NYC Department of Buildings as safe to occupy and in compliance with applicable building codes."
When Kushner Companies bought the four buildings, the firm added a floor to each structure and built penthouses to maximize their rental profits, the lawsuit says.
As a condition of building the penthouses, the city required that Kushner Companies install sprinklers and other enhanced fire safety measures throughout each of the buildings.
But according to the lawsuit, the company improperly obtained temporary certificates of occupancy on the false premise that the buildings had working sprinkler systems and that the penthouses were still under construction. The lawsuit said the company also conducted work without permits.
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