This new licensing agreement will work out great

Jared Kushner's family-owned real-estate company, the Kushner Companies, is the target of a class action lawsuit by residents of an apartment complex in Baltimore where tenants claim the company has engaged in some pretty sleazy tactics when it comes to the collection of late rent fees. See if this report from Pro Publica doesn't sound like the sort of predatory practice you'd expect in a robber baron's company town:

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleges that the management company and related corporate entities have been improperly inflating payments owed by tenants by charging them late fees that are often unfounded and court fees that are not actually approved by any court. This, the lawsuit charges, sets in motion a vicious cycle in which tenants’ rent payments are partly assessed toward the fees instead of the actual rent owed, thus deeming the tenant once again “late” on his or her rent payment, leading to yet more late fees and court fees. Making matters worse, the 5 percent late fees are frequently assessed on principal that includes allegedly unpaid fees, not just the rent itself. Tenants are pressured to pay the snowballing bills with immediate threat of eviction, the suit alleges.

Isn't that a hell of a racket? Pay your rent, and instead of paying your rent, some of the amount goes to your late fee, making you late on your rent again and subject to a new fee! The law firm representing the tenants, Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, has sued two other Baltimore-area property management companies for similar "fee-churning" practices. For the suit against the Kushner Companies, the firm has teamed up with another law firm that works on civil rights cases and with the Public Justice Center, a civil legal aid group that has also pursued similar cases against -- and we're using the legal term of art here -- other slimy bastard landlords.

The Kushner Companies are seriously big landlords in Baltimore, managing some 9,000 units in 15 different complexes. This suit follows that big May exposé by Pro Publica and the New York Times about the companies' sleazy business practices and an August story in the Baltimore Sun about the Kushner Companies' practice of seeking arrests of former tenants who "owe" rent or fees that they may not even have been properly billed for -- including tenants who moved out before the Kushners even bought the complexes, in one case for a woman who "broke" her lease (with permission of management), and when she found and submitted the proof that she hadn't broken her lease at all, they still came after her, slapping a lien on her and garnishing her bank account and wages.

In response to the investigative journalisming, Democrats in Maryland's congressional delgation -- both senators and four House members -- have requested records from the Kushner Companies, since many of the tenants affected by the company's practices rely on federal housing assistance to pay their rent, meaning the management company must comply with federal regulations:

The lawmakers demanded, among other things, all notifications from HUD, public housing authorities, inspection companies or local jurisdictions identifying defects in the complexes in the past three years; all complaints from residents about maintenance and repair issues over the past three years; and information regarding the role played by Jared Kushner.

Now that's just silly. Jared was too busy meeting with Russians to be bothered with collecting back rent, and he should step right up and say so to clear his good name.

One of the class-action plaintiffs, Tenae Smith, seems to have had all the joys of living in a Kushner-managed building. Smith repeatedly complained about a leaky ceiling, with no reply from the property manager. After months of roof leaks culminating in her slipping on a sodden floor, she filed a "rent escrow claim in court on Dec. 19 [2016], seeking to withhold her rent until the problem was fixed." While a judge dismissed her case, she has refiled, and also complains her apartment has mold, a leaky sink, and bedbugs. The management company started hitting her with arbitrary fees for "'writ filing' and 'legal-summons' ranging up to $80 even though no court had awarded such fees. Then things turned Kafkaesque:

If Smith did not pay all of the fees along with her rent, Dutch Village sometimes rejected her rent payment, leading to yet more fees. For instance, when she paid her $795 rent for this past July, it rejected the payment and said she in fact owed $944.70 because of accumulated fees, a sum that would grow with additional late fees, agent fees and baseless court fees if it was not paid in full.

“I would pay my rent, and if I was late, I would pay a 5% late fee, but the fees kept adding up,” Smith said in a statement paired with the lawsuit. “I work full-time and made regular payments, but they kept taking me to court for eviction and piling on the fees.”

Go read the full Pro Publica piece to get a sense of the shenanigans the Kushner Companies engage in -- as we've noted in other stories about Kushner, his family's company is certainly not the only big real-estate business to engage in slimy business practices. But it is the only creepy slumlord with a former CEO who's advising the president of the United States national policy (not to mention failing to bring peace to the Middle East).

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[Pro Publica]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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