Jared, meet Kamiia Warren. Your company nearly ruined her life.
ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis has an infuriating new story in The New York Times Magazine on a company called JK2 Westminster L.L.C., which for years relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent. In Warren’s case, the single mother of three had received written permission to break her lease early, and she owed no rent, but Westminster sued her anyway — for $3,014.08. She ended up losing on a series of technicalities — she did not have a lawyer — and the company went so far as to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job.
The company, meanwhile, ignored multiple complaints about poor upkeep and disrepair in its housing developments.
JK2 Westminster L.L.C., tenants soon found out, was owned by Jared Kushner:
At the Carroll Park complex, I met Mike McHargue, a private investigator, and his girlfriend, Patricia Howell. “They’re nothing but slumlords,” Howell told me of Westminster Management. “They take everyone’s money.” When I asked if they knew who was behind the company, they said they did not. “Oh, really?” Howell said when I mentioned Kushner’s name. “Oh, really. And I’m a Trump supporter.”
Although Kushner stepped down as chief executive of Kushner Companies in January, he remains a stakeholder and “his share of company-related trusts is estimated to be worth at least $600 million,” MacGillis reports.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for a landlord to pursue unpaid rent from tenants. But what was unusual for Kushner’s company was how aggressively it pursued people. The company even targeted former tenants from before Westminster even owned the building:
When I presented JK2 Westminster’s record of litigation to Matthew Cypher, a Georgetown University business professor who used to work for the real estate giant Invesco, he said it was highly unusual to put so much effort into pursuing former tenants in court. “These people fade into the shadows of the night,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that there’s that much to go after.” Brian Pendergraft, an attorney in Greenbelt, Md., who works on both sides of landlord-tenant litigation, told me he had heard of large property-management companies pursuing former tenants for unpaid rent but not going so far as to pursue tenants who predated the company’s ownership of a complex. “I guess you can do it,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s cool.”
Kushner, of course, is shielded from these personal stories by layers of bureaucracy and third-party enforcement, via lawyers and collection agencies. When we look closer we see that wealth is accumulated through the systemic, legal harassment of those who are less fortunate and who can’t afford a lawyer. I’m thankful that journalists like MacGillis will continue to force Kushner and others to look their tenants in the eye.