Judge Videtta A. Brown denied a request by five tenants to certify the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all tenants living in the apartment complexes in Maryland owned by the Kushner Cos. and managed by its affiliate, Westminster Management.
“After carefully considering the parties’ written briefs and oral argument, the court correctly determined that there is no basis for a class action lawsuit against Kushner and Westminster Management,” said Michael Blumenfeld, an attorney for the companies. “In denying the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, the court recognized that plaintiffs’s allegations are unique and individualized and not appropriate for class treatment.”
The tenants alleged that the companies violated Maryland law by “charging their tenants excessive, illegal late fees,” in addition to “misallocating rent payments to these illegal fees” in such a way that then triggered more fees for late rent. They also accused the companies of “using the threat of eviction to unlawfully collect these fees and other purported debts.”
Blumenfeld said each tenant would have to proceed with their case individually, assuming the plaintiffs do not appeal the ruling. No appeal has been filed.
The original lawsuit was filed in September 2017 by five tenants living in various apartment complexes, including Dutch Village in Northeast Baltimore and Carroll Park apartments in the Middle River area of Baltimore County.
The judge ruled, in part, that several of the tenants’ issues are not common enough across to warrant a class and would require “individualized evidence” and testimony. The tenants alleged that the companies violated the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act by “threatening to collect fees in the excess of 5% of the amount of rent due” in a “harassing manner.”
“This allegation cannot be proven on a class wide basis,” the judge wrote in a late April opinion. “Individual inquiries” would need to be made to determine the “nature” and “frequency” of the threats and the “form of harassment used by” the companies, which would then need to present individual defenses in each different allegation.
“This is a significant victory for Kushner, one we gained despite the political and media attacks against the company,” said Emily Wolf, general counsel of Kushner Companies.
Andrew D. Freeman, an attorney for the tenants, remained optimistic.
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“On behalf of the tenants we’re disappointed,” Freeman said. “But we remain hopeful that a class will eventually be certified.”