Advertisement

If Kushner won’t settle, Frosh should sue

A sign sits outside the Dutch Village apartments and townhomes, owned by the Kushner Cos., in Baltimore. Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm owns thousands of apartments and townhomes in the Baltimore area, and some have been criticized for the same kind of disrepair and neglect that the president has accused local leaders of failing to address.
A sign sits outside the Dutch Village apartments and townhomes, owned by the Kushner Cos., in Baltimore. Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm owns thousands of apartments and townhomes in the Baltimore area, and some have been criticized for the same kind of disrepair and neglect that the president has accused local leaders of failing to address. (Steve Ruark/AP)

The Kushner Companies’ Westminster Management has rebuffed a settlement offer from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh over its rental practices with harsh, unflinching words and sharp allegations. In a scathing statement given to The Sun’s Doug Donovan, company CEO Laurent Morali accused the Democratic attorney general’s office of coercive tactics against the company, owned by the Republican president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“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,” Mr. Morali said, implying that the company is being unfairly targeted.

Advertisement

It’s true that Mr. Kushner’s properties, just like those of any public figure, are likely to draw more attention than the average landlord’s. That’s just the nature of being in the spotlight. But that doesn’t change the facts of the case — or Mr. Kushner’s responsibility for them. While he stepped down as head of the company to join the Trump administration, he still retains ownership of the firm and must be accountable for how it treats tenants.

Carrie Newson watches television in the dining area inside her home at the Dutch Village apartments in Baltimore, which is owned by the Kushner Cos. Newson has complained to management about mice and mold in her home.
Carrie Newson watches television in the dining area inside her home at the Dutch Village apartments in Baltimore, which is owned by the Kushner Cos. Newson has complained to management about mice and mold in her home. (Associated Press)

The attorney general’s inquiries — which, per agency policy, Mr. Frosh has not confirmed, though Mr. Kushner’s company has — followed investigations by The Baltimore Sun and ProPublica into Westminster Management’s practices at rental properties around the state. And the reporting certainly should catch the attention of any attorney general, Democrat or Republican. The company is said to have charged fees above what is allowed by state law and then used coercive methods and threats of eviction to get people to pay up. The company also faces separate lawsuits over the allegations and has faced intense scrutiny from tenant advocates.

Allegations against the company also include aggressive tactics against poor people that included the threat of jail. A Baltimore Sun investigation found that in 2013, the first full year in which the Kushner Companies operated in Maryland, corporate entities affiliated with the firm’s apartment complexes had sought the civil arrest of 105 former tenants for failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt.

Mr. Frosh has an obligation to look into such allegations once brought to his attention, regardless of whether the suspected culprit is high-profile. And for the record, Mr. Kushner is by no means the first landlord the attorney general’s office has investigated.

The damage of such practices, if proven true, could have a wide implications given the scope of the company’s operations in Maryland. According to its website, Westminster Management owns and manages 21 apartment complexes in the state, mostly in the Baltimore region. It oversees a total of 10,091 units that generate approximately $85 million in annual net operating income, according to records maintained by Freddie Mac, the government-owned corporation that buys mortgages, packages them and sells them as mortgage-backed securities. The Dutch Village in Baltimore and the Commons at White Marsh in Baltimore County are among the properties it operates.

Mr. Morali disputes that the company mistreats tenants and doesn’t take care of its properties, and he points to more than $30 million in upgrades it claims to have made since purchasing the apartment complexes seven years ago. He also said the company has resolved issues as the Attorney General’s Office has raised them.

Sources familiar with a settlement offered by Mr. Frosh’s office in November accuse the company of violating parts of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act and the state’s landlord-tenant laws. Negotiations broke down last month.

If the attorney general’s office has the evidence it claims to prove wrongdoing by Westminster Management, it’s time that they take legal action. It’s been two years since the company’s practices first came to light and 10 months since a settlement offer. That’s long enough. Plus, there seems to be no more room to budge given Mr. Morali’s tough words as of late.

It’s not about politics but about following the law.

Advertisement
Advertisement