Fort Greene Residents To Sue City Over High-Rise Plans
An attorney for Preserve Our Brooklyn Neighborhoods will file suit to stop a proposed 13-story building from going up on South Portland.
NEW YORK (AP) – The Kushner Cos. engaged in a bit of creative mapmaking to qualify one of its buildings in a booming New Jersey waterfront neighborhood across from Manhattan for a federal visa-for-investment program targeting struggling areas.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show that the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner placed its 65 Bay Street building in Jersey City in a map stringing together two dozen other areas, some with high unemployment.
The map was included in a 2015 application to the EB-5 visa program that allows overseas investors to obtain U.S. residency in exchange for investments of $500,000 or more in rural areas or those with high unemployment.
The maps are legal, and many other developers engage in the practice. But the practice is one of the reasons the EB-5 visa program has come under criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
James Yolles, a spokesman for the Kushner Cos., declined to comment. The Kushner property is co-owned with developer KABR Group. KABR has not responded to voicemail and email requests for comment.
The special maps were reported earlier by The Washington Post.
The building at 65 Bay Street has licensed the Trump name from the president’s company, and is better known as “Trump Bay Street.” It received millions from wealthy overseas investors through the EB-5 program.
The Kushner Cos. was recently pitching to potential EB-5 investors in China for another Jersey City property. Called One Journal Square, it is a planned 79-story two tower complex in a struggling area of the city. The company is seeking 300 wealthy Chinese to invest a total of $150 million.
Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, created a stir in March after reports she had mentioned her brother, a senior adviser to Trump, in a presentation in China. Marketing materials for the event also cited the Kushner family’s “celebrity” status.
The Kushner Cos. said Meyer’s intention was not to use the connection to the White House to lure investors. Jared Kushner stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. when he joined the White House. His lawyer has said that he has sold his stake in One Journal Square.
To handle the mapmaking for Trump Bay Street, the Kushner Cos. turned to Evans, Carroll & Associates, an economic consultancy in Boca Raton, Florida.
On May 6, 2015, Evans emailed the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development requesting that it review a proposed map stretching over two dozen census tracts. The map formed an odd shape, with some relatively low unemployment areas separated by a few miles to high unemployment ones.
By the end of the month, came New Jersey’s reply: The areas included in the map, called a Targeted Employment Area, had an overall unemployment rate of 9.8 percent – high enough to qualify for the EB-5 program.
The unemployment rate for the single census tract that includes 65 Bay Street was not mentioned in the emails, but has typically been much lower, according to Dave Evans of Evans, Carroll & Associates. Evans said the unemployment rate last year for the census tract that includes 65 Bay Street averaged 1.3 percent.
In order to qualify for EB-5 financing, a building needs to be in a Targeted Employment Area with unemployment 150 percent above the average U.S. rate.
Critics have faulted the EB-5 program for failing to bring investment into poor communities as intended. By gerrymandering together rich geographic areas with poor ones, developers have managed to win approval from economic development authorities for luxury projects in Manhattan, California’s Beverly Hills and Miami’s South Beach.
Earlier this year, Evans, Carroll & Associates emailed New Jersey state officials for Kushner’s One Journal Square project, too.
To read the article in its entirety click here.
Jared Kushner and his real estate partners wanted to take advantage of a federal program in 2015 that would save them millions of dollars as they built an opulent, 50-story residential tower in Jersey City, N.J.’s booming waterfront district, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.
There was just one problem: The program was designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas.
So the project’s consultants got creative, records show.
They worked with state officials in New Jersey to come up with a map that defined the area around 65 Bay Street as a swath of land that stretched nearly four miles and included some of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. At the same time, they excluded some wealthy neighborhoods only blocks away.
The tactic — critics liken it to the gerrymandering of legislative districts — made it appear that the site was in an area with extraordinarily high unemployment, allowing Kushner Cos. and its partners to get $50 million in low-cost financing through the EB-5 visa program.
The move was legal, and other developers have used similar strategies in recent years, often aided by state officials who welcome the infusion of cash. But it illustrates how Kushner — who ran his family’s real estate company before he became a senior advisor to President Trump — and his partners exploited a loophole in a federal program that prominent members of both parties say has been plagued by fraud and abuse.
On the south side of Jersey City, which has some of the most entrenched poverty in the New York City region, many people interviewed one day last week were surprised that their neighborhood’s troubles were part of the reason that 65 Bay Street got cheap financing.
“That’s very sad,” said Pastor Shyrone Richardson of the World Outreach Christian Church in the struggling Bergen-Lafayette section of Jersey City. “Unfortunately, the people who are benefiting from this are not the people in this area.”
Richardson’s church is in a five-block area where nearly one in five were jobless and there were three fatal shootings in 2015, according to an analysis of crime and census data.
His neighborhood seems a world away from the gleaming office towers and trendy cafes that surround 65 Bay Street. The Jersey City waterfront saw a building boom after 9/11 that transformed the area into one of the hottest real estate markets in the New York metro region, drawing residents from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Apartments in the Bay Street building, marketed as Trump Bay Street, rent for up to $4,700 a month and offer sweeping views of Lower Manhattan. A nearby commuter train shuttles passengers to the World Trade Center within minutes. The area within a roughly three-block radius around the building had an unemployment rate of just 2.6% in 2015, according to census data.
Under the EB-5 program, a wealthy foreigner can get a fast-track visa granting U.S. residency by investing at least $500,000 in a project in a “targeted employment area.” To qualify, the area must have an unemployment rate at least 1½ times the national average. For developers, the terms of the investment are more favorable than a bank loan.
The Trump administration is considering whether to adopt changes that would prevent EB-5 gerrymandering. Kushner has said he will recuse himself from any discussions on the program.
Kushner Cos., meanwhile, is rushing to raise $150 million in low-cost financing through EB-5 for a separate project in Jersey City: a pair of luxury towers in an area called Journal Square. Kushner’s sister caused a stir this month when she mentioned her brother in a pitch for the project to investors in China.
For that project, too, the company is linking the development to blighted neighborhoods miles to the south while excluding adjoining neighborhoods that have lower unemployment rates, records show.
An executive at U.S. Immigration Fund-NJ, a firm helping Kushner Cos. raise EB-5 money for both projects, defended the practice. Mark Giresi, chief operating officer, called it a “common sense” approach that reflects the broader economic reality of each project’s surroundings. He also said jobs created by the project could be filled by workers from the depressed areas only miles away.
“In large urban markets like Jersey City these types of real estate development projects create much-needed jobs, particularly in the construction industry across areas of the city that cover multiple census tracts,” Giresi said in a statement. Census tracts are government-defined neighborhoods, sometimes as small as a few blocks.
Giresi said the Bay Street project created more than 1,280 construction and other jobs and that 1 Journal Square is projected to create 6,600. Under the program, each $500,000 investment must create at least 10 jobs.
The program’s critics say that cobbling together multiple census tracts to push up the average unemployment rate too often benefits developers and areas that do not need the government help. They point to EB-5 projects in prosperous areas of Manhattan, downtown Washington and in Beverly Hills.
“Many of these affluent-area projects would have been built and jobs created without the infusion of EB-5 capital,” said Gary Friedland, a scholar in residence at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Consequently, deserving projects can’t be built and the resulting jobs are lost because the projects are deprived of the essential capital to proceed.”
The government caps the number of EB-5 visas it issues each year, and most of the resulting investment goes to high-profile projects in prosperous areas.
A spokeswoman for Kushner Cos. declined to comment, as did Jared Kushner’s spokesman.
Jared Kushner has sold his interest in 1 Journal Square but maintains an ownership stake in 65 Bay Street. The KABR Group, a partner in the luxury tower on Bay Street, also declined to comment.
Kushner’s prominence is drawing renewed attention to the practice, which has been the subject of years of debate in Congress and furious lobbying by the real estate industry. In interviews along Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City last week, there was a common reaction.
“It’s like we’re being used,” said Helen Gathers, a registered nurse who has lived in Jersey City for 38 years.
Down the block, Laville Penn, a 54-year-old who was released from prison in early 2016 after a drug possession conviction, was looking for employment. He had been searching for steady work in construction for more than six months, he said, but had found only temporary day jobs.
Now, hoping to pick up some hours, he stopped by a lot where a friend was doing contract demolition work. Penn said the high-rises built in Jersey City are typically union jobs. “It’s difficult to get into the union if you don’t have certification or experience,” he said.
The EB-5 program was initiated in 1990 to help attract foreign investment to rural and poor, urban areas that have trouble drawing conventional financing or investment.
But developers are free to string together an endless number of contiguous census tracts until they reach the unemployment threshold. In the years since the Great Recession, this has often meant finding the nearest poor area and drawing a line to it.
Documents obtained from New Jersey through a public records request show just how easy that was for Kushner Cos. and KABR Group as they sought to build the Bay Street tower.
On May 6, 2015, Michael Evans, a consultant working on behalf of the project, sent an email to an official in the New Jersey Department of Labor asking that the Bay Street area be deemed an area with high unemployment. Individual states are responsible for reviewing unemployment data and issuing letters certifying that projects qualify for the federal program.
Evans wrote that such an area could be created by combining 26 census tracts in Jersey City that stretch more than two miles to the northwest and three miles to the southwest.
“The client as always is in a great hurry so if you can e-mail me the letter as soon as it is finished it would be appreciated,” Evans wrote. Evans did not respond to a request for comment.
There was a problem, though. The census tracts weren’t contiguous — and didn’t include the the project itself.
Three weeks later, the state, wrote back that the project qualified under a different but similarly attenuated configuration that achieved the same goal. New Jersey’s state website says it will help developers “perform a special tabulation for the area” of their project using census data.
The state-approved map strung together 16 census tracts that went nearly four miles to the southwest, crossing the New Jersey Turnpike and heading south to the Bergen-Lafayette and Greenville areas. Together, those neighborhoods had an average unemployment rate that edged just higher than 9.3%, the qualifying rate at the time.
That probably saved Kushner and his partners millions of dollars.
Developers typically pay only 4% to 8% interest annually on money raised through EB-5, experts said. Conventional financing can carry an interest rates of between 12% and 18%. On the $50 million for Bay Street, that difference amounts to millions of dollars annually over the life of the loan.
On Jan. 5 of this year, a little over two weeks before Trump was to take office, another consultant working on behalf of Kushner Cos. got in touch with New Jersey state officials again. This time, it was about 1 Journal Square. The census tract where it is located had an unemployment rate of 2.9% in 2015, but the consultant suggested adding five neighborhoods to triple that unemployment rate.
The approval came four days later, records show. Kushner’s sister went to China in May seeking the $150 million in EB-5 financing.
The Trump administration will decide in the coming months whether to enact rules, proposed by the Obama administration, limiting the census tracts that can be considered for EB-5 eligibility to only those directly adjacent to the tract containing the development.
The proposal is being considered by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Under the proposed rules, neither the 65 Bay Street tower nor the proposed 1 Journal Square project would be in a “targeted employment area.”
We would like to post a disclaimer. Today is Shavuot and it is conceivable that re-posting this on a Chag Regalim when we are not supposed to be working is not something that the author of the piece would have wanted. Suffice it to say, we are some observant and some not so. We do, however, respect those who are observant and keep the chagim and Shabbat. To that end, we are posting but have had this done by the non-Jews among us.
As another note, our decision to repost Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s piece is in no way indicative of any support for this site or its contents. He may one day write a piece condemning us. Should he ask us to take his article down, we will do so without hesitation. Therefore we request that you, our readers, kindly not make any assumptions or come to any conclusions with regard to the respected Rabbi’s writing or this site. We highly value his commentary here. Whether or not he thinks highly of our site is an opinion only he can voice.
Finally, many of the people named in our previous posts, utterly destroyed by Jared Kushner and his companies can be found by searching their names online. Should you feel like giving Tzedukkah or passing something kind forward, we invite you to send them money to help support their lives. Jared Kushner and his companies have filed hundreds of lawsuits against people whose major misfortune was signing a lease with those companies. There are too many to help and it is solely Kushner and his unconscionable companies who should be helping them. However, since Kushner’s greed seems to make that unlike and given that some of these people are in dire straights. If you have something to give, please do so.
To view his piece in its original form. Please see the Shalom Center: https://theshalomcenter.org/torah-vs-jared-kushner
Tonight we enter the festival that has come to mean standing again, each year, at Sinai. What does it mean for us to do this seriously, taking Torah deep into our lives, challenging ourselves to live by its deepest teachings?
What would it mean to bring Torah to bear on one rich, powerful, and unjust Jew –- Jared Kushner?
Through the last 2,000 years or so of Jewish history, generations of rabbis have defined themselves – our selves – as heirs of the Prophets, not of the priests. Heirs of the Prophetic commitment to challenge unjust and destructive behavior, to reinterpret Torah for the sake of renewing life as the world around us and within us changed.
When Jews lived in self-contained communities, social if not physical ghettos, that degree of social control was workable for the sake of life-giving, justice-living Torah. But as we – for good reason! — left such social ghettos, the ability of the rabbis or of the community as a whole to rebuke and end destructive and unethical behavior dwindled. So that lifts up the question: What could the Jewish community of today do about such behavior?
I want to lift up a perfect example of how Torah values are trampled underfoot even while the semblance of piety is claimed. A story of one man who at this moment holds great power and exemplifies in his own person the “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves – that now afflicts us:
His companies have used false and brutal behavior toward low-income people who are tenants and even former tenants of the Kushner-owned properties, to extract money from them that in fact they don’t owe, ruining their families and their lives.
Since they can’t afford the lawyers who could defend them, they sink deeper and deeper into debt, disaster, and despair.
It seems to me that this behavior by a very high-profile Jew who claims not only the ethnic identity but the religious conviction is exactly what my grandmother called a chillul hashem.
“Chillul,” from the same root as “challil,” the hollow flute, means hollowing-out — in this case, hollowing out God’s Name.. Since one of the mystics’ metaphors for God is “Tree of Life,” the “hollowing” is an especially powerful imagery.
A person who seems on the outside to be celebrating a living, thriving Sacred Tree of Life has hollowed out all the life-juice within.
The seemingly pious behavior of a seemingly pious Jew actually shatters Torah — not in the private and self-contained way of a Jew who decides to eat pork; rather, in a way that shatters decency and justice in the public sphere, for many victims.
I urge you to see the article for yourself at —
Kushner’s behavior teaches a vile version of what Judaism and the Jewish people are. When Jews lived in self-contained communities, such an ethical and religious violation could be confronted, rebuked, perhaps punished, even healed by repentant self-correction.
Now it is harder. But perhaps it is still possible. I recall the moment when a small group of rabbis in Northern California called themselves ”the Redwood Rabbis.” With help from The Shalom Center, they challenged a Jewish corporation-owner whose business was logging magnificent 2,000-year-old redwood trees to make paneling for rich people’s basements. The corporation’s own annual report said that redwood paneling without knots sold better, and it came only from ancient trees.
We gathered on Tu B’Shvat, the RebirthDay of the Trees and of the sacred Tree of Life, to “trespass” on his land to rebuke his killing of these sacred trees of life. We placed a critical ad in his home-town Jewish newspaper just before Yom Kippur to call him to do tshuvah.
We voted inside and demonstrated outside when his stockholders gathered for the annual corporate meeting.
And finally, reluctantly, he sold the groves of ancient redwoods to the California and American governments to be protected.
If rabbis then could see the destruction of these trees as a violation of Torah, what could we say now about acts that cruelly destroy the lives of hard-working human beings? Could we challenge Mr. Kushner in similar ways? If we did, would we risk encouraging anti-Semitism? Or would we risk it more by keeping silent?
Tonight we face the Festival of Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth. It celebrates two people: a penniless foreigner, an immigrant from a despised and hostile nation, a woman unprotected by a man – and a wealthy landholder who not only obeyed but affirmed the Torah’s command to make sure the poor and the immigrant had dignity and a decent livelihood. Could any teaching be more clear about the malfeasance of Jared Kushner?
Since the NY Times article on Kushner’s domestic business cruelties, there have emerged claims he may have negotiated with the Putin government of Russia in clandestine ways. And Politico has published an article suggesting his connections with the Lubavitch Chabad organization are intertwined with Chabad’s specially cozy relationship with Putin, in a way to benefit him and his father-in-law both financially and politically.
These allegations may or may not be accurate. They merit close study. But the cruelty of his business dealings in Baltimore and elsewhere is clear, already proved.
Most American Jews have made clear that they do not view Mr. Kushner or his kleptocratic and authoritarian bully of a father-in-law as heroes.
But the established “major” organizations have so far not rebuked such behavior by rich Jews, nor have the rabbis who might be thought to be the guardians of Torah. What more might we do to stand again at Sinai and to clarify what Judaism ought to be, in actual practice?
Blessings that we come to live more fully in a a world that as the ancient Rabbis taught, can stand up straight only if it stands upon three pillars: Emet, Tzedek, v’Shalom: Truth, Justice, and Peace —
Tenants in more than a dozen Baltimore-area rental complexes complain about a property owner who they say leaves their homes in disrepair, humiliates late-paying renters and often sues them when they try to move out. Few of them know that their landlord is the president’s son-in-law.
Did you know Trump son-in-law and now Adviser For All The Things Jared Kushner is a slumlord? Yeah, Jared Kushner is a slumlord.
The worst troubles may have been those described in a 2013 court case involving Jasmine Cox’s unit at Cove Village. They began with the bedroom ceiling, which started leaking one day. Then maggots started coming out of the living room carpet. Then raw sewage started flowing out of the kitchen sink. “It sounded like someone turned a pool upside down,” Cox told me. “I heard the water hitting the floor and I panicked. I got out of bed and the sink is black and gray, it’s pooling out of the sink and the house smells terrible.”Cox stopped cooking for herself and her son, not wanting food near the sink. A judge allowed her reduced rent for one month. When she moved out soon afterward, Westminster Management sent her a $600 invoice for a new carpet and other repairs. Cox, who is now working as a battery-test engineer and about to buy her first home, was unaware who was behind the company that had put her through such an ordeal. When I told her of Kushner’s involvement, there was a silence as she took it in.
“Get that [expletive] out of here,” she said.
That’s from Alec MacGillis’ investigation into the state of multiple Kushner-owned properties managed under the name JK2 Westminster, and specifically of the company’s unusually aggressive court actions against renters. The Kushner clan bought up an array of distressed and dilapidated properties, older complexes where renters pay about $1,000 a month, and Jared’s quite pleased with their performance, calling it a “very stable asset class.” As CEO of the company up until he got tapped by Donald Trump to fix the entire Middle East, the opiate crisis, and whatever else ya got, one of the ways Jared squeezed more money out of the properties than the previous owners was to shortchange renters on needed fixes—and then sue them when they tried to move out.
In the cases that Tapper has brought to court on behalf of JK2 Westminster and individual Kushner-controlled companies, there is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease — even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side. Not only does the company file cases against them, it pursues the cases for as long as it takes to collect from the overmatched defendants — often several years.
You can see why Trump’s taken such a liking to the guy: he’s a Trump man through and through. Trump will charge lower-income Americans extravagant prices for not-classes at his not-university, and Kushner will sue them for past rent when they get back home.
And so we’re told the tale of collapsed drywall ceilings, mice in beds, nonworking appliances, and the usual signs you’re living in a complex owned by someone who may or may not later end up in jail. Those go alongside tales of Kushner’s company aggressively pursuing $5,000 judgments against deceased cancer patients, or people who have been made sick from the mold or rodent droppings, or people who got permission to leave their leases early from the local property manager but the head office never got the paperwork so screw you, that’s why.
Very few of the complex residents I met, even ones who had been pursued at length in court by JK2 Westminster, had any idea that their rent and late fees were going to the family company of the president’s son-in-law. “That Jared Kushner?” Danny Jackson, a plumber in his 15th year living at Harbor Point Estates, exclaimed. “Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”
Yeah, he does try to give that impression. So, ya know … oops.
Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, sues his Baltimore tenants for thousands of dollars in bogus debts, on which he also gets judgments allowing him to garnish their wages and drain their bank accounts.
This according to Pro Publica’s Alec MacGillis, who reports in a story for this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine that Kushner quietly bought-up thousands of modest and run-down apartment units in Essex and other Baltimore suburbs, whose tenants complain of poor maintenance, harsh rent collection techniques, and relentless pursuit of old and sometimes dubious debts generated after tenants moved out.
MacGillis leads off with Kamiia Warren, who moved out of Cove Village in Essex years ago to get away from a crazy neighbor. She had permission to do so from the apartment’s managers, yet Kushner’s company sued her years later for breaking the lease, winning more than $3,000 plus fees and expenses: almost $5,000 total by 2014.
At one point in the story, a private investigator looking into Westminster Management, Kusher’s property management company says, “they’re nothing but slumlords.” MacGillis notes the P.I. is a Trump supporter and had no idea of the connection between Trump’s son-in-law and Westminster.
MacGillis finds hundreds of cases, and the story profiles several other tenants with similar experiences. A spokesperson for Kushner’s company tells MacGillis that it owes a fiduciary duty to its investors to try to collect all outstanding debts. The story does not explain how or why it’s legal for the landlord to effectively generate the debts out of thin air, or why the District Court judges routinely uphold them. He tries to talk to Kushner’s collection lawyer, Jeffrey Tapper.
“In the cases that Tapper has brought to court on behalf of JK2 Westminster and individual Kushner-controlled companies, there is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease—even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side,” MacGillis writes.
Tapper blows him off.
Aside from the presidential connection, the story reads much like Doug Donovan and Jean Marbella’s Baltimore Sun series a few weeks ago on Baltimore City’s rent court, where the deck is said to be stacked pretty high against tenants.
The idea of working with little pay and no fanfare to make people’s struggles less onerous is a sucker’s game for Mr. Trump and his cohort. When members of Team Trump play, they are never the sucker. They exploit foreclosures, promote legislation to benefit themselves, stiff workers and contractors and create multimillion-dollar scams.
For the past few years, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, who is now in charge of vital parts of the president’s agenda, has been a landlord of often decrepit low-income housing. His subordinates aggressively sue tenants for the smallest infractions despite ignoring maintenance needs, and they pursue judgments even when the tenant seems to have been in the right. While landlord-tenant disputes are hardly new, tenants in Kushner complexes have complained that the company used legal action to hound them on thin or specious grounds.
Since 2011, subsidiaries of Kushner Companies, the family real estate business Mr. Kushner ran until January, bought 20,000 apartments in 34 complexes in Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey. An investigation for The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, by Alec MacGillis, found that one major Kushner subsidiary, JK2 Westminster, had 548 cases on file against Maryland tenants. Hundreds of other cases have been filed there by individual Kushner apartment complexes.
Community organizers could have helped Kushner tenants like Kamiia Warren of suburban Baltimore, who was sued for moving out of her apartment without giving two months’ notice despite having done so. Mr. Kushner’s company won an almost $5,000 judgment anyway, and garnished her wages as a home health worker, and her bank account.
The Times investigation quotes the Kushner Companies’ chief financial officer, Jennifer McLean, as saying that the company has a “fiduciary obligation” to collect as much revenue as possible. Mr. MacGillis adds: “One way to make sure that tenants are paying their rent and to keep them from breaking leases early … is to instill a sense of fear about violating a lease.”
Baltimore-area renters complain about a property owner they say is
neglectful and litigious. Few know their landlord is the president’s son-in-law.
This article is a collaboration between The Times and ProPublica, the independent nonprofit investigative-journalism organization.
The townhouse on High Seas Court in the Cove Village development, in the Baltimore suburb of Essex, was not exactly the Cape Cod retreat that its address implied: It was a small unit looking onto a parking lot, the windows of its two bedrooms so high and narrow that a child would have had to stand on a chair to see out of them. But to Kamiia Warren, who moved into the townhouse in 2004, it was a refuge, and a far cry from the East Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up. “I mean, there were bunny rabbits all hopping around,” she told me recently.
In the townhouse next door lived an older woman with whom Warren became friendly, even doing her grocery shopping once in a while. But over the course of a few months, the woman started acting strangely. She began accosting Warren’s visitors. She shouted through the walls during the day. And at night she banged on the wall, right where Warren kept the bassinet in which her third child slept, waking him up.
Warren sent a letter reporting the problem to the complex’s property manager, a company called Sawyer Realty Holdings. When there was no response, she decided to move out. In January 2010, she submitted the requisite form giving two months’ notice that she was transferring her Section 8 voucher — the federal low-income subsidy that helped her pay the rent — elsewhere. The complex’s on-site manager signed the form a week later, checking the line that read “The tenant gave notice in accordance with the lease.”
So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster L.L.C.
Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district-court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.
If the case was confounding to Warren, it was not unique. Hundreds like it have been filed over the last five years by JK2 Westminster and affiliated businesses in the state of Maryland alone, where the company owns some 8,000 apartments and townhouses. Nor was JK2 Westminster quite as anonymous as its opaque name suggested. It was a subsidiary of a large New York real estate firm called Kushner Companies, which was led by a young man whose initials happened to be J.K.: Jared Kushner.