BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm was sued Monday by a group of tenants who say dangerous construction work and cancer-causing chemical dust were part of an effort to force them out of their building.
Led by the nonpofit watchdog the Housing Rights Initiative — which is not a plaintiff in the suit but has been investigating Kushner Companies, LLC since June 2017, according to its executive director — the suit alleges dangerous and illegal construction work is a tactic to force out rent-stabilized tenants in order to turn their apartments into luxury condominiums.
“Plaintiffs, and young children, [have been] exposed to a constant cloud of toxic smoke and dust, illegal noise, unsafe conditions, unregulated and unsupervised workmen performing construction activity while releasing contaminated dust containing lead, crystalline silicates, gypsum, and other poisonous and carcinogenic substances,” says the complaint filed in Kings County Supreme Court.
Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, stepped down as the company’s CEO in January 2017 to be a senior White House advisor. He had run Kushner Cos. since 2005, after his father, Charles Kushner, was sentenced to prison for tax evasion and witness tampering. Laurent Morali is currently the company’s president.
According to the complaint, Kushner Companies, LLC bought waterfront property in gentrifying Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2015 with the intent of turning it into a luxury apartment building. The construction continues “to the present day,” the complaint says, though according to Housing Rights Initiative executive director Aaron Carr, tenants had been filing complaints with the New York City Department of Buildings about the construction for years.
“Any complaints during construction (which was completed in 2017) were evaluated and addressed promptly by the property management team. The property management team is committed to continuing to meet the needs of all residents,” a Kushner Cos. spokesperson said in an emailed statement Monday.
The construction on the outside of the building, which according to the complaint used to be a manufacturing warehouse, caused dust that included crystalline silica, which can cause lung damage, and gypsum, a respiratory irritant. The pre-war building also includes lead-based paint, and the dust pervades the plaintiffs’ apartments, they say, as well as a “constant danger of falling chunks of debris” and the security risk posed by having workers constantly come and go.
There are also live wires in the stairwell, rodent infestations and floods in some apartments, as well as no tenant safety plan, full-time superintendent, or emergency phone number, the complaint says.
The suit also alleges the permits Kushner Cos. filed with the New York City Department of Buildings unlawfully described the property as unoccupied.
“The lawsuit filed today by certain current and former tenants of Austin Nichols House is totally without merit and we intend to defend it vigorously,” said the Kushner spokesperson.
“The residents of Austin Nichols House were fully informed about the planned renovation and all work was completed under the full supervision by the New York City Department of Buildings and other regulatory agencies, with full permits and with no violations for these claims.”
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Jack Lester, spoke at a Monday afternoon press conference, calling the alleged actions “intolerable and inexcusable.” He said the tenants of the building are young artists and professionals and young families with children.
Other speakers at Monday’s press conference railed against state and city governments as well as real estate companies, saying while Kushner Cos. was the big name that brought attention to the case, other New York City landlords frequently perpetuate even more serious abuses against more vulnerable tenants who fly under the radar.
Aaron Carr, executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative, said broken systems were responsible for “foster[ing] a culture of real estate corruption that has given rise to the Kushner Companies of the world.
“At the end of the day, it was Kushner Companies’ failed morality that exposed children to lead, and it was New York state’s failed policies that exposed tenants to Kushner,” Carr said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams agreed, saying the lawsuit “reads like a playbook of actions taken by bad-acting landlords.”
He added not enough was being done to punish unscrupulous landlords in real time.
The suit demands $10 million in punitive damages.