By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout has announced specific tenant-friendly objectives she would implement in the office if elected in response to reports that 19 tenants are suing Jared Kushner’s real estate company for pushing them out of their rent stabilized apartments.
Teachout’s agenda, which she announced on Monday in front of the Kushner-owned building in Williamsburg whose tenants have filed the lawsuit, includes creating an ombudsman position that would be responsible for engagement with tenant groups and organizers to respond to complaints and increasing criminal prosecutions in the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, a division of the AG’s office that investigates and prosecutes cases involving bank fraud, deceptive lending practices, tenant harassment and other real estate-related crimes.
“These crimes are committed every day by real estate companies in New York,” she said. “If we really want to change their behavior, we have to go after them criminally and not just civilly.”
Teachout is also calling for an increase of staff at the Real Estate Finance Database, which is maintained by the AG’s office and catalogues submitted offerings of cooperatives, condominiums, homeowners associations and timeshares.
Another aspect of Teachout’s agenda is refusing to accept campaign contributions from real estate lobbyists, the Real Estate Board of New York or from LLCs. LLCs, or limited liability corporations, are often used by real estate companies to circumvent campaign contribution limits and essentially allows the companies to make unlimited donations to politicians. State Senator Brad Hoylman has pushed the State Senate to close the loophole and now-State Senator Brian Kavanagh also advocated for closing the loophole when he was in the Assembly.
“The real estate lobby contributes millions of dollars to New York politicians so they’ll look the other way on the housing crisis,” said Teachout, adding, “The wrong people are in jail.”
The Associated Press reported arlier on Monday that current and former tenants of Austin Nichols House at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg are accusing Kushner’s real estate firm of pushing them out of their rent-stabilized apartments through various harassment tactics, including rats crawling through the walls, $500 rent hikes and construction so loud it rattled the walls and coated furniture in the apartments with dust.
The AP’s investigation found that more than 250 rent-stabilized apartments, 75 percent of the building, were either sold or emptied as the company was converting the building into luxury condos. The sales have totaled more than $155 million at an average of $1.2 million per apartment.
Kushner Cos. told the AP that they didn’t harass tenants to get them to move out but data from the AP suggests that turnover at the building was significantly higher than the usual city averages for rent-stabilized buildings and tenants filed a lawsuit on Monday claiming they were harassed and exposed to a toxic dust that turned up high levels of lead and crystalline silica, which has been connected to cancer.
Teachout, a Fordham law professor, is running against Leecia Eve, former aide to Hillary Clinton and Governor Cuomo; Public Advocate Letitia James; and upstate Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney.