xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Kushner apartment company says Maryland AG ‘overreached’ with charges to target a ‘political enemy’

Attorneys for an apartment management company owned by Jared Kushner say recent charges by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh that it used “unfair or deceptive” rental practices represent a legal overreach and “political attack.”

Of all the residential landlords in Maryland, the attorneys argued in the administrative case last week, Frosh went out of his way — and beyond the scope of the law, his legal authority or expertise — to charge “the one group of landlords known to be affiliated with a political enemy."

Advertisement

The management company, Westminster Management LLC, is owned by Kushner Cos., the family real estate firm of Kushner, a senior White House adviser who is married to President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. It manages properties across the Baltimore region.

Attorneys for the company contend that Frosh used a novel interpretation of state rental law, espoused by tenant advocacy groups but in conflict with court precedent, to make his case. In doing so, they argued, he ignored ongoing efforts by state lawmakers to address the issue legislatively, and a “good faith effort” by the company to address his concerns over the last two years.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Frosh “has overreached, and in overreaching has turned what ought to have been, at best, a small administrative action of dubious merit into a sprawling prosecution threatening to devour the resources of the parties,” the attorneys wrote.

Neither Kushner representatives nor Frosh’s office immediately responded to requests for comment on the filing Thursday.

Frosh, a Democrat, has objected to a host of policy and business decisions by Trump, a Republican, and at times filed lawsuits to block them. But he also has called “ridiculous” the Kushner Cos. claim that the rental charges against Westminster are politically motivated.

Frosh said the claims are instead based on a slew of violations he alleges the company committed for years while managing rental properties in the region, in concert with property owners named as co-defendants in the case.

Advertisement

“What we are claiming in this lawsuit is that 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 said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in October. “They caused serious harm and suffering to the people who lived in their units.”

In his statement of charges, Frosh claimed that the Kushner-linked companies operated without proper licenses and charged tenants illegal and other “sham” fees while renting out “distressed, shoddily maintained” apartments and townhomes under “conditions that can adversely impact consumers’ health and well being.”

Many tenants, Frosh’s office argued, "have had to endure living in units that are infested by rodents and vermin, plagued with water leaks that have caused mold and other issues, and, at times, lacking in basic utilities.”

The charges followed articles in The Sun and ProPublica beginning in 2017 that detailed complaints from tenants and housing advocates that Westminster was violating consumer protection rules and treating tenants poorly. Those claims — including that residents struggled with rodents in their homes — garnered renewed attention this summer, after Trump called Baltimore a “rat and rodent infested mess.”

Kushner stepped down as CEO of the family firm when he became a senior adviser to Trump in 2017, but did not divest from some of its properties, including Westminster.

The complexes in question — many of which are listed in Frosh’s complaint as being associated with JK2 Westminster LLC, of which both Jared Kushner and his brother Josh have been identified as members in past court filings — collectively have about 9,000 units in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County.

Westminster is also the target of separate civil litigation by individual tenants, though a judge recently denied an attempt by tenants to create a class that could bring collective legal action against the company.

Frosh filed his charges against the company within the Consumer Protection Division of his own office, distinguishing it from a traditional lawsuit in state or federal court. Under state regulatory statutes, such charges go before an administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley, who will determine facts and make legal conclusions in the case before kicking it back to the Consumer Protection Division. There, personnel walled off from the initial investigation will be tasked with adjudicating the findings and assessing damages, if any, for victims.

Any decision could be appealed in state court.

In addition to objecting to the nature of the claims and questioning Frosh’s motives for filing them, the attorneys for Kushner took issue with the nature of the administrative process.

They argued they and the other defendants in the case have been “unfairly made to defend charges in an expedited proceeding, in a case in which [Frosh’s office] has reserved for itself final decision-making authority" — with "potentially millions of dollars at stake.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement