By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
You may have heard that Steve Croman, the notoriously abusive slumlord owner of many Village apartments, is back at work as an ex-convict. He seems to be joined by another landlord organization of questionable reputation, the Charles Kushner family.
According to Wikipedia: Kushner Companies LLC is an American real estate developer in the New York City metropolitan area. The company’s biggest presence is in the New Jersey residential market. Its founder, Charles Kushner, was convicted of tax evasion and witness tampering in 2005 and served time in federal prison. As a result, he handed over the management of the company to his son Jared Kushner. In 2017, Nicole Kushner Meyer joined her brothers Josh and Jared in Kushner Companies, serving as a principal.
A study published by Bloomberg News in December, 2017 indicated that Kushner Companies owns a stake in over 60 buildings in New York City. Major holdings in the city include the Puck Building, the retail space at 229 West 43rd Street, and 666 Fifth Avenue (until its 2018 sale of 49.5% ownership to Vornado).
According to the Bloomberg article, the company is facing an increasingly “distressed situation.” Over the last few years, family members have sought substantial overseas investment to deal with “troubled finances.” In the 2010s, developers such as the Kushner Companies widely used the EB-5 visa to fuel a “high-end US residential boom.” In May, 2017, Trump renewed the visa program in his first major piece of legislation.
Although the Kushner Company has a stake in more than 60 buildings in New York City, including in Greenwich Village and East Village apartments, in nearly half, they own less than 20 percent.
A documentary series shown on Netflix includes Dirty Money, and S2 E3, Slumlord Millionaire, is about the Kushner family businesses.
Like all prudent landlords, each property may have a different LLC filing, often obscuring the owners behind it. One such subset for Kushner is Westminster Living, managing most of the Village properties.
Slumlord Millionaire exposes the horrible living conditions and predatory legal maneuvers the Kushners use to extricate their tenants or extract maximum fees; it is a disturbing sight to see. The Housing Rights Initiative director Aaron Carr narrates the battles his organization has fought against the Kushner practices. Some of those examples are on East 10th Street or Avenue A, but the Kushners own others in Greenwich Village, like 120 McDougal Street, across from Café Wha?
And what are the Google reviews for Westminster Living?
“Kushner properties and their associates Westminster Management are a disgrace.” “Terrible awful people.”
The Associated Press reported, “More than a dozen current and former residents of the (184 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg) building told the Associated Press that they believe the Kushner Company’s relentless construction, along with rent hikes of $500 a month or more, was part of a campaign to push tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments and bring high-paying condo buyers in.” The Kushner Cos. was fined $210,000 by city regulators last year after an Associated Press report found that the company had submitted paperwork to regulators that claimed it had no low-paying, rent-stabilized tenants in dozens of its buildings when, in fact, it had hundreds. The false paperwork, which allowed the company to avoid inspections and other scrutiny during construction work, has been noted by critics who have said that it is often used by landlords to chase low-paying renters out.
Sadly, this corporate pattern of squeezing out rent-protected tenants is shared by too many landlords. Only strong laws will protect such abuse.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture subjects.