Kushner Companies is illegally operating nine apartment buildings in the East Village and Williamsburg, according to an investigation by City Council member Ritchie Torres and watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative.
The discovery is the culmination of a two-year look at the company’s New York City portfolio, during which it was found that the firm falsified more than 80 building permits and performed illicit construction work at multiple properties. Now, Torres and HRI say Kushner Cos. is operating nine buildings with expired certificates of occupancy—meaning tenants should not be living in these properties.
The findings paint a portrait of Kushner Companies as a landlord where “illegality is the business model,” according to Torres, who is the chairman of the council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations.
“The goal here is a concerted effort to evade scrutiny of its construction practices,” Torres said at a Tuesday news conference in front of the firm’s HQ at 666 Fifth Avenue. “Kushner Companies is engaged in what I call the weaponization of construction—the use of construction as a weapon for harassing tenants out of their apartments and deregulating units out of existence.”
A Certificate of Occupancy, which is issued by the city’s Department of Buildings, has inspectors certify that a structure can be legally occupied by tenants. Without one, it is unlawful for New Yorkers to live there, or for a landlord to collect rent on the units. Not all buildings require a certificate of occupancy—including buildings erected before 1938, when the city began requiring those documents—and Kushner Companies claims it has “inherited from prior owners Certificates of Occupancy with various issues.”
“Kushner is committed to the safety of our residents and the proper maintenance of our buildings,” said a spokesperson with the real estate group. “Kushner will continue the long and detailed process to work with our consultants and the Department of Buildings to correct every issue outstanding.”
Torres and Aaron Carr, the executive director of HIR, slammed the DOB for a lack of enforcement and called on the city to take swift action to ensure the buildings are safe—eight are in the East Village and one is in Williamsburg. Torres accused the buildings department of being “selective about the laws it is enforcing.”
“It comes down to holding the city accountable for enforcing its own laws,” said Torres. “I’m a legislator; what good are the laws I pass if the city refuses to enforce them?”
But the DOB shot back: Agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky accused the lawmaker and Carr of “pure grandstanding” and said their investigation “identified nothing more than paperwork lapses that have nothing to do with tenant safety.”
Rudansky noted that all but one of the properties the pair cited were constructed before the city began requiring certificates of occupancy and stressed that the nine properties are safe to occupy.
“DOB’s top priority is safety—and indeed, we have inspected all these buildings or renovated units and deemed them safe to occupy,” he said.