New York City's buildings regulator launched investigations at more than a dozen Kushner Cos. properties Wednesday following an Associated Press report that the real estate developer routinely filed false paperwork claiming it had zero rent-regulated tenants in its buildings across the city.
The Department of Buildings is investigating possible "illegal activity" involving applications that sought permission to begin construction work at 13 of the developer's buildings, according to public records maintained by the regulator. The AP reported Sunday that Kushner Cos. stated in more than 80 permit applications that it had zero rent-regulated tenants in its buildings when it, in fact, had hundreds.
The false filings were made while Kushner Cos. was run by Jared Kushner, now senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. The false filings were all signed by a Kushner employee, sometimes by its chief operating officer. None were signed by Jared Kushner himself.
The false documents allowed the Kushner Cos. to escape extra scrutiny during construction at 34 of its buildings, many which showed a sharp decline in rent-regulated units following the work. Housing Rights Initiative, a watchdog group that uncovered the false filings, says that made it easier for the Kushner Cos. to harass the low-paying, rent-regulated tenants so they would leave, freeing up apartments for higher-paying tenants.
The Kushner Cos. said Wednesday that it is the victim of "politically motivated attacks." It said it values and respects its tenants and operates under "the highest legal and ethical standards."
In earlier statements the company said it outsourced preparation of its permit applications to third parties, and described the wrong information as "mistakes or typographical errors." It also said it corrected mistakes as soon as it spotted them.
The buildings department confirmed on Wednesday that its building marshal's office had launched investigations into possible false paperwork.
"Our building marshal is a key part of our Tenant Harassment Task Force," spokesman Joseph Soldevere said. "And when they inspect a building they look into everything from the roof to the cellar to find illegal construction, and that's what they are doing."
The agency has disciplined a contractor involved in false filings at two Kushner buildings, he said.
The Kushners Cos. filed more than one permit application at many of the buildings under investigation. At least 10 of the 29 applications under investigation were filed by prior owners.
On Monday, the city council launched a joint investigation with Housing Rights Initiative into the false filings.
The heads of the joint investigations, Councilman Ritchie Torres, a Democrat, and Housing Rights Initiative founder Aaron Carr, said in a statement that they were encouraged by the buildings department probe, but that more needed to be done.
"The predatory practices of Kushner Companies is symptomatic of a systemic failure in DOB enforcement," it said.