July 17, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Kushner Companies has been hit with a $10 million lawsuit over a luxury Williamsburg building, with claims that the company engaged in illegal construction practices that compromised the health and rights of tenants in a bid to push them out.
The lawsuit, announced yesterday by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the Housing Rights Initiative, alleges that the tenants of 184 Kent Ave., the seven-story, 338-unit converted condo building by the waterfront and completed in 2017, were subject to “illegal, dangerous, and destructive” practices by Kushner Companies that aimed to harass them out of their units by exposing them to “a toxic dust storm of lead and lung carcinogens.”
Kushner Companies purchased the building known as the Austin Nichols house in 2015 with plans to convert the existing rental units into luxury condos, but since the building was rent-stabilized, the HRI claims that Kushner Companies “commenced a deliberate campaign” to drive residents out and get the most profit out of the converted building since.
The HRI claims that an independent lab analysis shows that families, including children and babies, were exposed to crystalline silica and lead, and that cancerous and poisonous materials contaminated the halls, air, and tenant apartments within the building.
“We are commencing this lawsuit to secure justice for the tenants exposed to unsafe and hazardous conditions during the Kushners’ mad dash to gouge profits while ignoring the health of tenants in residence,” said Jack Lester, the attorney filing the lawsuit. “On behalf of the public, we are expressing zero tolerance for lawbreaking landlords putting personal profit ahead of basic concern for the safety of their tenants.”
Adams, who joined the HRI outside the Kings County Supreme Court yesterday, said 184 Kent Ave. is part of a larger problem.
“During my tenure as Brooklyn borough president, the issue I hear most about from constituents is the affordable housing crisis and the destabilizing influence of tenant harassment,” Adams said. “We must do all that we can legislatively and through our courts to ensure our laws not only protect tenants, but aggressively prosecute violators so that justice is served accordingly. What is taking place at 184 Kent Avenue is just a microcosm of a larger epidemic of tenant harassment across the borough.”
The 19-plaintiff lawsuit has also prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce an investigation by the state’s Tenant Protection Unit into allegations of tenant harassment at 184 Kent Ave.
“Governor Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes,” said RuthAnne Visnauskas, NYS Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner. “In New York, no one is above the law, and we will thoroughly investigate the appalling allegations of harassment at this or any related property and hold anyone found guilty of such abuse responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
In a statement, Kushner Companies said the lawsuit “is totally without merit”, and that they intend on defending the company “vigorously”.
“The residents of Austin Nichols House were fully informed about the planned renovation and all work was completed under the full supervision by the New York City Department of Buildings and other regulatory agencies, with full permits and with no violations for these claims,” said Emily Wolf, a spokesperson for Kushner Companies.
Wolf said tenants were never pressured to leave their apartments, and that market-rate rent stabilization was and continues to be complied with.
“Any complaints during construction (which was completed in 2017) were evaluated and addressed promptly by the property management team. The property management team is committed to continuing to meet the needs of all residents.”