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AP Exclusive: Kushner organization routinely filed false NYC housing documents

New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres, left, and Housing Rights Initiative Executive Director Aaron Carr address a news conference outside Kushner Cos. headquarters in New York, March 19, 2018. The pair called for an investigation into a report by AP and a tenants' rights watchdog that Jared Kushner's family real estate company routinely filed false paperwork declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned in New York when it actually had hundreds. (AP Photo / Richard Drew)

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It started with a tip about tenants being harassed at a cluster of New York apartment buildings owned by Jared Kushner’s family.

Bernard Condon, a New York-based business writer, began reporting the story last year, visiting buildings in Astoria, Queens, interviewing the tenants, many of whom were reluctant to go on the record. A few did, and they told similar stories of being subjected to loud construction at all hours, dust, rodents, lead paint in the air and heat suddenly shut off in the winter. Then, some were approached with offers of money to get them to move so the company could install higher-paying renters.

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Jared Kushner, shown in 2017, was CEO of Kushner Cos. when the real estate firm filed false documents claiming it had no rent-regulated tenants in dozens of New York buildings it owned. In fact, it had hundreds of such tenants. The company says it outsourced the preparation of the documents to a third party and that “if mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately.” – AP Photo / Evan Vucci

But the tip did not truly begin to take shape and make sense until a tenant advocate source told Condon he had discovered that Kushner Cos. had filed false paperwork for two buildings elsewhere in the city that made it easier to harass tenants without notice during construction. Condon asked the advocate about other buildings, including the ones in Queens.

The source came back with startling news: Kushner Cos. had filed paperwork saying it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings throughout the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

Condon’s exclusive, exposing the falsehoods, earns the Beat of the Week.

After receiving the initial tip, Condon staked out Kushner’s buildings for two days. He talked to a local barber, a dry cleaner on the corner, the mail deliverer, and tenants walking in and out the front door. He got inside one and copied names on mailboxes and called and emailed them back in the office. He eventually spoke to more than three dozen tenants, many who described a campaign of harassment.

Condon staked out Kushner’s buildings for two days and pored over tax documents.

One of the rent-regulated tenants who lives on Social Security checks and odd jobs described constant drilling in the middle of the night, rats and hallways filled with lumber, sawdust and plaster. Within a few weeks, someone knocked on her door and offered her at least $10,000 to leave the building. She refused and sued. She won a year’s worth of free rent and a new refrigerator.

Condon, a member of a team that has been examining conflicts in the Trump family businesses, pored over dozens of tax documents that showed there were more than 300 rent-regulated units in Kushner buildings. All the false paperwork claiming there were none were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer.

If the Kushner Cos. had disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter city oversight of construction crews by the city, including possibly unscheduled “sweeps” on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants.

Condon’s story won widespread play.

It was No. 1 on AP Mobile,generating thousands of shares, comments and debate on social media. It also appeared in The New York Times,The Washington Post,New York Post and New York Daily News.

The next day,the New York attorney general and the mayor said the matter warranted attention, and a New York City council member held a news conference in front of the Kushner headquarters to launch his own investigation,saying the matter could ultimately be referred to law enforcement.

For dogged reporting that shined a light on the business ethics of a company led by the president’s son-in-law and trusted adviser, Condon wins this week’s $500 prize.

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