Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a lawsuit accusing a company owned by Jared Kushner of using “unfair or deceptive” apartment rental practices in rodent-infested buildings it managed in Baltimore.
Kushner’s company, Westminster Management, was among more than two dozen companies accused by the state of having “victimized consumers, many of whom are financially vulnerable, at all stages of offering and leasing,” The Baltimore Sun reported. Frosh told the outlet Westminster Management was responsible for “hundreds of thousands” of violations.
Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies when he joined the White House in 2017, but did not divest from certain properties, including Westminster Management.
The company has been under investigation by Frosh’s office for years. In 2017, The Baltimore Sun reported that the company was among the most aggressive in Maryland when it came to debt collection, even getting judges to order the arrest of delinquent tenants, but were less aggressive in controlling the rodent infestation plaguing hundreds of complainants. The issue received renewed attention after Trump smeared Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
Frosh said in a statement of charges that the company did not operate with proper licenses and charged tenants illegal and “sham” fees on “distressed, shoddily maintained” units with “conditions that can adversely impact consumers’ health and well being.” Many tenants “have had to endure living in the units that are infested with rodents and vermin, plagued with water leaks that have caused mold and other issues, and, at times, lacking basic utilities,” the statement said.
Some residents “experienced rodent infestations so severe that they have rodents living and dying in walls and kitchen appliances; damaging carpeting; chewing holes in drywall and screen doors; and leaving droppings on floors, counter tops, and furniture,” the statement said.
The lawsuit did not specify how much money the state was seeking to collect from the company, which manages about 9,000 units in the Baltimore area, but Frosh told the Sun that the damages “could swell to many millions of dollars.” Frosh said his office has been involved with a “lot of similar cases” but none of “this magnitude.”
Kushner Companies previously rejected a settlement offer from Frosh’s office and told the Sun on Wednesday that it would fight the charges.
“We refuse to be extorted by an ambitious Attorney General who clearly cares more about scoring political points than fighting real crime and improving the lives of the people of Maryland," CEO Laurent Morali told the outlet.
Frosh called the company’s allegation of political bias “ridiculous” and pointed to the numerous complaints his office received, describing “an extraordinary panoply of violations of the rights of tenants.”
“They were cheating tenants before, during and after their tenancy, and when I tell you there were hundreds of thousands of violations of the Consumer Protection Act, it just begins to convey the seriousness of the charges,” Frosh told the Sun. “They caused serious harm and suffering to the people who lived in their units."
This is not the first government action taken against Kushner Companies in Maryland. In 2017, Baltimore County issued a release showing that the company had violated housing codes more than 200 times in just 10 months and only addressed the problems after being threatened with fines.
That same year, ProPublica and The New York Times published a joint exposé revealing that the company had quickly moved to buy up rental units in the area, and aggressively went after people who failed to pay rent on time. The report also echoed many of the complaints in Frosh’s statement, including one woman who said she found a mouse in her 12-year-old’s bed.
Tenants have since filed a lawsuit and are seeking class-action status in court, The Associated Press reported. The lawsuit accused the company of using sham fees to keep tenants “under constant fear of eviction, and guessing what they owe.”