The apartment management company of former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner committed “numerous, serious violations” of consumer protection laws, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office said following months of testimony in which tenants alleged substandard conditions and improper fees.
In what amounted to closing arguments in a case dating to 2019, lawyers in Attorney General Brian Frosh’s Consumer Protection Division have filed nearly 600 pages summarizing the allegations of dozens of disgruntled current and former renters at Maryland apartment complexes overseen by Westminster Management.
Many tenants graphically described incidents of rodent or roach infestation, mold or leaking pipes.
“Just like complaints about leaks, tenants made repeated complaints about persistent problems with rodents and pests,” said the brief filed with Administrative Law Judge Emily Daneker.
Other renters alleged they were improperly billed for late fees, filing rental applications or damage charges when they moved out.
Kushner Cos. released a statement Thursday to The Baltimore Sun denouncing the suit.
“After failing emphatically during a three-month hearing, [the Consumer Protection Division] continues to target Westminster Management with more of the same politically motivated abuse,” said Christopher W. Smith, the firm’s general counsel, in a statement. “The truth is that Westminster Management has been consistently honored with multiple annual awards for property management excellence by the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, and prides itself in maintaining industry leading standards for upkeep, maintenance, and attention to residents’ well-being — especially during this difficult time.”
An administrative law judge now has about 90 days to issue a proposed decision, which then heads back to the Consumer Protection Division for an order. Either side could ask the courts to review the decision.
The briefs signaled the final chapter in a yearslong legal battle involving Frosh, the state’s top lawyer and a Democrat, and the company bearing the name of Kushner, a former White House senior adviser. He is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is heir to Kushner Cos., the family’s real estate firm that owns Westminster Management.
Kushner stepped down as the firm’s CEO when he became a senior adviser to his father-in-law in 2017 but did not divest from some of its properties — including Westminster Management, the company at the center of Frosh’s complaint.
The treatment of Baltimore-area tenants by the Kushner company, and particularly the degree to which they have struggled with rodents in their homes, garnered renewed attention in July 2019 after Trump called Baltimore a “rat and rodent infested mess.”
In January 2020, a judge ruled against five area tenants who had brought a lawsuit claiming Westminster engaged in unlawful rental practices, including by charging improper fees and threatening evictions to force payment. Baltimore Circuit Judge Philip Jackson issued a one-page order agreeing with the company that the suit shouldn’t proceed.
The new filing by the state summarized the testimony of dozens of Marylanders who lived in apartments managed by Westminster.
In one example, a woman who lived with her infant son in a townhome at The Commons at White Marsh said she wrote to Westminster in 2018 to “please send exterminator continuously until further notice for mice and ants. I am tired of Mickey running through my damn kitchen!”
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In another, a renter at the Charlesmont Apartments in Dundalk alleged he was not given the apartment he signed up for but “was told the original unit he had been shown by the leasing consultant had been rented to someone else,” the state’s brief said.
Kushner Cos. did not respond to a request for comment on the two renters’ allegations.
In its closing brief, Westminster Management and related companies argued the Consumer Protection Division overreached and did not prove its case.
The division is trying to hold the companies liable for legal violations “under certain novel interpretations that have never been upheld by a Maryland court,” their lawyers wrote.
”While the Division’s sentiment may be shared by certain advocacy groups and the Attorney General himself, it is unfair to seek to hold businesses operating in Maryland liable for conduct that ‘ought to be’ unlawful in the eyes of some,” the attorneys wrote. “Due process and fairness dictate that businesses be held accountable only for violations of the law as written by the legislature and interpreted by Maryland courts.”
Frosh’s filing was unlike traditional lawsuits in state or federal court. Under Maryland regulatory statutes, the state filed the charges within the Consumer Protection Division, to then be put before the administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley.
Frosh has estimated the damages could swell to many millions of dollars given the volume of alleged violations, but the filing did not specify an amount sought.