Jared Kushner under fire from another Maryland Democrat: Kevin Kamenetz

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has joined the line of Maryland Democrats scrutinizing the local apartment holdings of Jared Kushner.

Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to Republican President Donald J. Trump, owns more than 7,000 units in the county.

Kamenetz, seeking to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan next year, said Thursday that the Kushner Cos. has failed to pay $3,500 in fines for outstanding code violations cited by inspectors.

Kamenetz said the unpaid fines contradicts a Kushner Cos. spokeswoman’s statement that the firm has been in “compliance with all state and local laws.”

The company issued that statement this week in response to reports that Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, was investigating the company’s rental practices in Maryland.

The Kushner Cos. official had a similar response in August when Maryland Democrats in Congress asked the firm to turn over documents related to its receipt of federal rental subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked the committee Thursday to approve subpoenas for those documents. The Republican-led panel rejected the effort.

A Kushner Cos. spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Kamenetz said county inspectors have cited the Kushner Cos. with more than 200 code violations so far this year and had to threaten to withhold federal rent subsidies for low-income tenants to prompt repairs.

The county did not have statistics to compare the rate of violations at Kushner properties to those of other large landlords, a spokesman said. In budget documents, the county says 25 housing inspectors respond to 18,000 code complaints each year. Landlords typically get a month to make repairs.

Violations included overflowing trash cans and rodent infestations. Kamenetz said they were discovered during routine inspections or in response to tenant complaints. Inspectors found 173 violations in 701 HUD-supported units over 10 months, the county executive said.

After the county threatened to withhold subsidy payments, he said, repairs were made in all but six cases The Kushner Cos. owns and operates 7,238 units in 13 apartment complexes in Baltimore County. The county has issued $4.8 million in federal rental subsidies on behalf of 197 low-income tenants between 2015 and June, according to a HUD official.

“We expect all landlords to comply with the code requirements that protect the health and safety of their tenants, even if the landlord’s father-in-law is president of the United States,” Kamenetz said. “No one is above the law.”

But a tenant advocate and a political observer questioned Kamenetz’s motives.

“Where has code enforcement been up until now?” asked Robert Strupp, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. “It’s unfortunate that it seems to take a case of notoriety in order for code enforcement to show up on the scene.”

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, described Kamenetz’s move as an obvious attempt to score points with Democratic primary voters.

“Whatever connection you can find to the Trump administration to suggest you are with the resistance resonates with [Democratic] primary voters,” Eberly said. But “you have to find something more than a company owned by Jared Kushner and $3,500 in fines.”

Eberly said all Democratic candidates for governor will be trying to appear anti-Trump. He said Kamenetz’s attempt does not compare to Frosh’s efforts to challenge Trump’s national policies in court.

“Code violations do not rise to the level of challenging environmental rollbacks,” he added. “It’s not even in the same league. It’s not even the same sport.”

In 2010, Kamenetz’s campaign for county executive received a $2,500 donation from Sawyer Property Management, which owned most of the properties now owned by the Kushner Cos. Maryland affiliate Westminster Management, campaign finance records show. Sawyer remains a partner in some of those properties with Westminster.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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