“Tenants in more than a dozen Baltimore-area rental complexes complain about a property owner who they say leaves their homes in disrepair, humiliates late-paying renters and often sues them when they try to move out. Few of them know that their landlord is the president’s son-in-law,” wrote ProPublica, in an article last May. Today the chickens came home to roost and a class action suit was filed in Baltimore circuit court against Trump senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. ProPublica via RawStory:
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleges that the management company and related corporate entities have been improperly inflating payments owed by tenants by charging them late fees that are often unfounded and court fees that are not actually approved by any court. This, the lawsuit charges, sets in motion a vicious cycle in which tenants’ rent payments are partly assessed toward the fees instead of the actual rent owed, thus deeming the tenant once again “late” on his or her rent payment, leading to yet more late fees and court fees. Making matters worse, the 5 percent late fees are frequently assessed on principal that includes allegedly unpaid fees, not just the rent itself. Tenants are pressured to pay the snowballing bills with immediate threat of eviction, the suit alleges.
“JK2Westminster” is a very interesting business entity specializing in harassing low income people such as Kamaii Warren, who moved out of a Kushner owned unit, in accordance with all the rules, and then received notice of a lawsuit years later which alleged that she left before the expiration of the lease term, even though she had received written permission to leave. ProPublica:
If the case was confounding to Warren, it was not unique. Hundreds like it have been filed over the last five years by JK2 Westminster and affiliated businesses in the state of Maryland alone, where the company owns some 8,000 apartments and townhouses. Nor was JK2 Westminster quite as anonymous as its opaque name suggested. It was a subsidiary of a large New York real-estate firm called Kushner Companies, which was led by a young man whose initials happened to be J.K.: Jared Kushner. [...]
But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty.
In financial difficulty? All the better to victimize you, my dear. And victimize JKWestminster did:
Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”
The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”
This is only one of 548 cases under JKWestminster in the court index plus hundreds more that have been filed in the names of the individual complexes. Don’t think for a moment that Jared Kushner hesitates to collect on judgments finagled through the system; and he employs the worst collection lawyers in the business — and collection law is noted for being draconian and vile.
The law office of Jeffrey Tapper specializes in “collections” work, with an emphasis on landlord-tenant cases. It has represented several other real-estate management companies, including Sawyer, which retains a stake in many of the Kushner complexes.
In April, I drove to Owings Mills in hopes of speaking to Tapper. As I waited for him by reception, I overheard an assistant making a call about a new case, saying that the firm would continue to pursue one tenant even if the other person on the lease had filed for bankruptcy. [...]
In the cases that Tapper has brought to court on behalf of JK2 Westminster and individual Kushner-controlled companies, there is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease — even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side. Not only does the company file cases against them, it pursues the cases for as long as it takes to collect from the overmatched defendants — often several years. The court docket of JK2 Westminster’s case against Warren, for instance, spans more than three years and 112 actions — for a sum that amounts to maybe two days’ worth of billings for the average corporate law firm associate, from a woman who never even rented from JK2 Westminster.
The ProPublica journaist asked experts to comment on these practices:
When I presented JK2 Westminster’s record of litigation to Matthew Cypher, a Georgetown University business professor who used to work for the real-estate giant Invesco, he said it was highly unusual to put so much effort into pursuing former tenants in court. “These people fade into the shadows of the night,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that there’s that much to go after.” Brian Pendergraft, an attorney in Greenbelt, Maryland, who works on both sides of landlord-tenant litigation, told me he had heard of large property-management companies pursuing former tenants for unpaid rent but not going so far as to pursue tenants who predated the company’s ownership of a complex. “I guess you can do it,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s cool.”
There was, Hertz added, an ancillary benefit to such relentless pursuit: sending a message to current tenants. One way to make sure that tenants are paying their rent and to keep them from breaking leases early — which brings with it the costs and hassles of having to clean apartments and find new tenants — is to instill a sense of fear about violating a lease. “Any landlord takes that into account,” Hertz said. “They know tenants are going to talk to each other. If they say, ‘He’s going to come after you,’ it’s deterrence.”
It goes without saying that the units in question have mold beneath the carpets, black sinks, and all the accoutrements of slum living — and more. This being a Kushner owned unit raw sewage and maggots have been reported. Yet that doesn’t matter. The tenants are legally overmatched and overwhelmed and in a total perversion of legal ethics, the law is not used as a shield, rather it is used as a sword — and against the most vulnerable.
FORBES estimates that Jared Kushner, his brother Josh and his parents, Charles and Seryl, have a fortune worth at least $1.8 billion, more than half of which Forbes estimates is held in real estate. Now you know how he makes, it at least in some part. Bear in mind that this is being done by the man who is supposed to stop the opoid epidemic, bring peace to the Middle East, reform the criminal justice system, and renovate technology in government. When you contrast the real world dimension of what Jared Kushner is about with the fantasy and the hype, the result is galactically stunning. Let’s hope they throw the book at him.