In letter Friday, the lawmakers focus on collection tactics, HUD vouchers, steps to avoid conflict of interest
BALTIMORE — Congressional Democrats from Maryland are asking for thousands of pages of documents to review the business practices of the apartment rental company owned by Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump.
In a letter Friday, Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Anthony Brown told Kushner's firm that it must abide by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations because its tenants receive federal rental subsidies through the Housing Choice voucher program.
The Kushner Cos. own 17 apartment complexes in Maryland, most of them in Baltimore County. The lawmakers, who represent areas with Kushner properties, want documents that detail the New York-based company's voucher contracts with HUD, inspection reports, lawsuits filed by the firm against former tenants and information about any potential conflicts of interest for Kushner.
The Baltimore Sun posted a story online this week detailing the firm's legal efforts to collect unpaid rent from former tenants, including requesting body attachments, the controversial practice in which judges order the arrest of civil defendants for allegedly failing to appear in court.
The Sun has reported that the Kushner Cos. have filed more than 1,200 civil actions against former tenants in Maryland for unpaid debts, actions that have included requests to have renters arrested.
The Sun has reported that three of the company's 17 apartment complexes in Maryland have received $6.1 million in HUD Housing Choice voucher payments on behalf of 268 tenants. The White House told the Sun in February that Kushner would not participate in any policy decisions related to the voucher program to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest.
The lawmakers cite The Sun's reporting and a magazine article by The New York Times and ProPublica that alleged substandard living conditions in Kushner properties.
"If these reports are accurate, they raise very serious and troubling concerns about whether Kushner Companies and its subsidiaries are complying with HUD's housing quality standards to ensure the safety and health of their own tenants," they write.
The letter is addressed to Kushner Cos. president Laurent Morali. A copy was provided to The Sun.
Emily Wolf, general counsel the for Kushner Cos., said Friday "we are in compliance with the requirements of the Federal Housing Choice Program.
"We exercise our legal rights under the relevant provisions of Maryland law only as a last resort after all other reasonable attempts to collect rent payments are unsuccessful," she said in a statement.
Jared Kushner was CEO of the Kusner Cos. from 2008 until Jan. 19, when he stepped down to join the Trump administration. He retains ownership of the firm.
The Democrats requested all documents pertaining to inspections of Kushner-owned properties, including "any notification of elevated blood lead level affecting any tenant."
"The goal of the Housing Choice program is to provide 'decent, safe, and sanitary' housing to very low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities," they write. "As HUD explains, each 'dwelling unit must pass the program's housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments.'"
HUD requires that each apartment be maintained in "sanitary condition" and "be free of vermin and rodent infestation."
Inspection reports from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City this year and last showed that the Dutch Village apartment complex failed inspection in 31 units. All passed reinspection a month later, and another 25 apartments passed initial reviews.
The inspectors issued failing grades after finding a hazardous electrical outlet, damaged steps and "evidence of infestation."
"Seal all rat holes in front of unit," one inspector directed.
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and top adviser to President Donald J. Trump, will refrain from any policy making related to federal rental assistance for low-income tenants because his real estate firm's Baltimore-area properties receive income from the U.S. housing department's voucher program, a White House official told The Baltimore Sun.
The Carriage Hill apartment complex in Randallstown had "elevated levels of lead in the drinking water at the property due to lead-containing faucets and/or solder," the investment research firm Morningstar reported in an analysis of the Freddie Mac mortgages being sold to investors. Morningstar cited an environmental site assessment of the property.
"The borrower is required to replace all faucets that are older than five years within 10 months of closing," Morningstar said.
The lawmakers asked for information about how many lawsuits the company has filed against tenants, including those who receive vouchers, and how much money judges have awarded to the firm. They also requested "copies of all requests for body attachments filed by Kushner Companies in the state of Maryland."
Since 2013, when the Kushner Cos. began their first full year of operations in Maryland, affiliates of the firm have sought the arrest of 105 former tenants — more than any other firm in the state — for allegedly failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt.
Judges have awarded the firm a total of $5.4 million in judgments against tenants, who owed an average debt of nearly $4,400, the analysis shows. Their original average debts were $2,950, but lawyers fees, court costs and interest charges inflated the final judgments.
Judges have approved the garnishment of tenants' wages in nearly all those cases.
Kushner properties in Maryland generate at least $90 million in revenue annually, the firm reported in investor documents filed with Freddie Mac. The documents show that 14 of the apartment communities clear at least $30 million in annual profit.
Three of the portfolio's apartment complexes — Dutch Village in Northeast Baltimore, Carriage Hill in Randallstown and Highland Village in Lansdowne — received $6.1 million in Housing Choice vouchers since Jan. 1, 2015. The vouchers are also known as Section 8.
The lawmakers are asking for all communications "between Kushner Companies and the White House, including but not limited to communications regarding the management and resolution of Jared Kushner's conflicts of interest." They ask for documentation of communications between Jared Kushner and the Kushner Cos. since Jan. 20, the day Trump was inaugurated.
They also ask for any documents "describing policies and procedures implemented by Kushner Companies to manage and resolve conflicts of interest involving Jared Kushner."
The Democrats have requested a briefing on the information on Sept. 8.