Jared Kushner uses lawfare to extort money from poor tenants in Baltimore.

While much of the discussion of Kushner’s real-estate empire has focused on glitzy high-rises in New York City, Kushner also owns far more modest low-rise residential rental complexes across the country. The NY Times and Pro Publica have a superb exposé of shoddy conditions and exploitative, extortionate tactics used in Baltimore housing complexes owned by a company called “JK2 Westminster”. The JK stands for Jared Kushner’s initials.

The article describes the travails of one young woman who terminated her lease early, with permission from the landlord, a few months before Kushner bought the property. Kushner’s lawyers filed a court-case to extract several thousand dollars from the young woman. The judge ruled against her because she failed to attach a document. Her wages were garnished and her bank account emptied. 

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.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted-living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

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All of this evokes the practices of Kushner’s father-in-law, who also got his start managing low-income and rent-stabilized properties. Trump and his father practiced housing segregation and harassed tenants in NYC for decades.

The pattern of behavior by Kushner’s companies and lawyers seems downright vindictive :

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 pursuit is all the more remarkable given how transient the company’s prey tends to be. Hounding former tenants for money means paying to send out process servers who often report back that they were unable to locate the target. This does not deter Kushner Companies’ lawyers. They send the servers back out again a few months later.

There are several more examples in the lengthy Pro Publica/NY Times’ expose, including the story of a young mom who moved because black mold in her apartment induced her son’s asthama. She too was pursued by Kushner’s lawyers, even though she terminated her lease early (with permission) a year prior to them buying the property. There are other examples of poor maintenance and how the Kushners changed rent-payment rules and deadlines so as to create more late fees. 

And it wasn’t happening just in Baltimore — Doug Wilkins, a lawyer in Toledo who has represented some of the complexes bought there by Kushner, told me the company is seeking far more monetary judgments than did previous owners.

Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org | @subirgrewal