UPDATE 7/16/2018: The Cuomo administration has directed its tenant protection unit to investigate the allegations of tenant harassment at Austin Nichols House.
“Governor Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, the Commissioner of the New York State Homes and Community Renewal, the agency that the Tenant Protection Unit is a part of. “In New York, no one is above the law, and we will thoroughly investigate the appalling allegations of harassment at this or any related property and hold anyone found guilty of such abuse responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
Kushner Companies’s conversion of the rental building at 184 Kent Avenue into luxury condos is in hot water yet again; a group of 19 current and former residents of the building, with the help of the Housing Rights Initiative and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, are set to file a lawsuit against the development firm alleging “illegal, destructive, and dangerous construction practices.”
The tenants allege that ever since Kushner Companies purchased this 338-unit property three years ago, they’ve pursued a relentless effort to drive the rent-stabilized tenants out of the building. The Associated Press first broke the news of the alleged tenant harassment; their own investigation revealed that over 75 percent of the building’s apartments were emptied or sold since Kushner Companies took over. That’s a much higher turnover than most rent-stabilized building conversions, according to the AP, and so far the developer has made $155 million from the sale of the market-rate condos at the building.
Construction wrapped in December 2017, but prior to that, tenants at the building said they had to contend with loud construction noise from early in the morning to late at night; dust from all the drilling; rodents; and construction workers barging into apartments unannounced.
An analysis of nine apartments at the building, conducted by an independent lab, revealed high levels of lead and crystalline silica—the latter has been linked to lung cancer and liver disease.
A representative for Kushner Companies told the AP that that was an updated version of an old report prepared for the building. The company also acknowledged that it had received some construction complaints, but that they dealt with it immediately. Furthermore, inspections conducted by the city’s Department of Buildings did not reveal any violation of construction laws, according to the AP.
Still, the experiences of former and current tenants do not match up to this, and this $10 million lawsuit is a result of that. Construction at the Austin Nichols House, as this building is now known, also came under scrutiny in the summer of 2016 when a series of mysterious fires were reported at the building.
A spokesperson for Kushner Companies issued the following statement to Curbed:
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. 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. Tenants were never pressured to leave their apartments and the market-rate rent stabilization was – and continues to be - complied with under applicable rent guidelines. 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.