Baltimore County Executive notes ‘irony’ in Trump’s criticism, calling out code violations at Kushner properties

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said there's an "irony" in President Donald Trump criticizing Baltimore and the region, given Baltimore County had the threaten action against properties owned by the family company of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. called President Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks on Baltimore and the region ironic given the problems associated with properties in the county owned by the family real estate company of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Still the Democratic county executive said Monday he hoped to turn what he called a pile-on into a conversation about solutions.

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Trump unleashed several insults on Twitter Saturday against Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, whom he called a “brutal bully,” and his 7th Congressional District, which includes much of Baltimore but also reaches into Baltimore and Howard counties. Trump, a Republican, specifically mentioned crime, rats and trash.

But Olszewski noted that the county once had to threaten the Kushner firm to get it to address code violations and other issues at its Baltimore County properties. The Kushner Cos., and its affiliates, own nearly 9,000 rental properties in Maryland, more than 7,200 in Baltimore County alone.

“We had to both threaten significant fines as well as withholding federal payments to ensure there was compliance,” Olszewski said of county efforts in 2017, under his predecessor, Democrat Kevin Kamenetz. “There’s a certain irony in hearing the president attacking a city and region when his own son-in-law was directly involved and his company was directly involved in creating the conditions where that quality of life was threatened.”

A Kushner Cos. spokesperson told the Baltimore Sun that “Kushner Companies is proud to own thousands of apartments in the Baltimore area.

“Substantial amounts are constantly reinvested in the properties to maintain a high quality residential experience for our tenants,” according to the statement.

Kushner Cos. owns 17 complexes in Maryland, the Baltimore Sun reported earlier this year. While it owns several in Cummings 7th District, none of those appear to be in Baltimore County, where it largely owns properties on the county’s east side.

In November 2017, Kamenetz said county code inspectors had cited the Kushner Cos. for more than 200 violations. The company had $3,500 in unpaid fines, Kamenetz said.

There were nine properties where the county charged significant fines, in addition to actually withholding rental assistance payments, Olszewski said.

“You’re talking about a company that was using local taxpayer dollars to help subsidize these apartments," he said, “and they were frankly in conditions that as a father I wouldn’t want to raise my daughter or my family in.”

Baltimore County spokesman T.J. Smith told the Sun the county received 164 complaints resulting in 56 “correction notices and citations” and a possible $13,200 in fines. Most of those citations were corrected, Smith said, so the county levied $2,000 in fines. Smith said the violations were all related to livability issues such as mold, insect infestations, mice, rats, window or door leaks, and inadequate air conditioning or heat.

Kushner-owned properties also include hundreds of units eligible for publicly-funded housing vouchers. Smith said 699 of those units passed annual inspections in 2017, while 200 units failed. Some of the properties have been transferred since the 2017 violations.

Smith couldn’t say Monday afternoon whether the county has flagged these properties for new violations since 2017.

It’s part of a longer pattern of complaints against Kushner-owned properties.

The Baltimore Sun in 2017 found that corporate entities affiliated with the Kushner complexes have sought the civil arrest of more than 100 former tenants for failing to appear in court to face allegations of unpaid debt. Between 2013 and 2017, Kushner affiliates had filed at least 1,250 legal actions, and judges had awarded a total of $5.4 million in judgments against tenants who owed an average of $4,400, The Sun reported.

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In one case involving the Kushner-owned firm Westminster Management, an attorney for Westminster tenants alleged the firm charged illegal fees and threatened eviction to force payment.

In May, a Baltimore judge denied a request by five Westminster Management tenants seeking to open a class action lawsuit against the company. Instead, tenants will have to pursue lawsuits individually.

The Kushner Cos. also went to court with The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets to keep private the names of investors in their Maryland apartment buildings. A judge eventually ruled the investors had to be disclosed.

Kushner stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. when he joined the Trump administration in January 2017, but he still retains his ownership of the firm.

The debate about Baltimore seemed to be sparked Saturday by a Baltimore County Republican’s video of trash-filled streets that was shown on Fox News. Olszewski said he hoped the conversation would turn toward how to address problems the city and region are facing.

“This isn’t about a person trying to raise an issue or concerns that they have,” he said. “It’s really more about the response and the piling on that was done subsequent to that.”

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