Update, April 15: Tenants have reached a settlement with Westminster. Read the latest here
No cooking gas for five months, rising mounds of trash, and an infestation of rats and other vermin– these are just some of the complaints that tenants of 118 East 4th Street have voiced against their landlord, who happens to be the son-in-law of Donald Trump.
A quick online search reveals more disgruntled claims from tenants of Jared Kushner, the 35-year-old husband of Ivanka Trump, and his company, Westminster City Living. Some of the Yelp reviews read almost like Trump tweets: “Horrible! WATCH OUT! Bunch of Scammers” and “Horrible… Bad service, inflexible, not willing to help in any way.”
But Kushner’s meager two-star rating on Yelp may be the least of the New York Observer publisher’s worries, since tenants of one of his many East Village buildings have now taken him and Westminster City Living to housing court. In January, tenants of 118 East 4th Street filed an HP Action demanding repairs and services, according to a press release issued by the Cooper Square Committee, an advocacy organization collaborating on the lawsuit.
A hearing date was originally set for February 4, but was dismissed when Kushner failed to show up in court. By the time the hearing finally took place last week, the property had racked up 35 open violations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, with eight of them being classified as “immediately hazardous.”
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez believes other buildings under Kushner’s management have suffered similar neglect. “Last year, tenants at 170-174 East 2nd Street didn’t have gas for over a year,” she is quoted as saying in the press release. “I can only believe after all the problems at East 2nd Street that what is happening at East 4th Street is just a willful disregard for the tenants right to a safe and habitable apartment.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman added, in the release, that “it is unacceptable that for five months tenants at 118 East 4th Street have been without gas and beset by vermin, heat outages, and ceiling collapses.” Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer also decried the lack of gas and said she hopes “the law is enforced.”
A Westminster representative told Gothamist, which yesterday published a lengthy account of the company’s East Village dealings, that the gas was “shut off by Con Ed after reports of a gas smell, an issue we take very seriously.” The spokesperson said that Westminster “inherited problems” when it purchased the buildings on East 2nd and East 4th Street, one of dozens it acquired from controversial landowner Benjamin Shaoul. According to the spokesperson, Westminster is on the verge of finalizing an agreement that “not only assures the prompt addressing of all issues, but will also include a compensation package based upon the unintended and unavoidable disruption of services.”
Still, Brandon Kielbasa, the Director of Organizing and Policy at the Cooper Square Committee, insisted to us that there was “a real disregard for the tenants” of 118 East 4th Street, which consists of a mix of rent-regulated and market-rate apartments. He said that during the gas shut-off, tenants “had very little information from the property management firm all along the way.”
The lack of gas has burdened tenants in more than one way, Kielbasa stressed. “We’re hearing complaints about the financial burden, but people are also complaining about the actual health consequences of not being able to cook healthy meals, such as gaining weight,” he said. As a result of having to eat out all the time, “they’re spending more money and eating less healthier than they should.”
Kielbasa was confident that the tenants’ decision to organize was a crucial first step toward defending themselves against the neglect in their building. “It’s a powerful tenants’ association, and they’re not going to sit tight if they’re not getting the essential information they need [from Kushner’s company]. The company has a lot of money, they could be doing a lot better in the building.”
For Kielbasa, forming a tenants’ association is essential for protection against landlord abuses, a suggestion he extended to the occupants of Kushner’s newly purchased property in Astoria, Queens. “I would say that whoever the tenants are in Astoria, they should come together to start forming a tenants’ association. I don’t think tenants in Astoria have the luxury to wait and see; they should always come together and organize.”