Kushner E. 4th tenants without gas five months

Jared_Kushner_cropped 2
Jared Kushner, landlord, newspaper publisher, presidential adviser…Middle East savior?
E. Fourth St. tenants are steamed at landlord Jared Kushner, above, for not providing gas for nearly five months.  Photo by Lori Berkowitz
E. Fourth St. tenants say they are steamed at landlord Jared Kushner, above, for not providing gas for nearly five months. Photo by Lori Berkowitz

BY JOAQUIN COTLER | Updated Fri., March 11: Thurs., March 3, marked another hearing in ongoing litigation between young real estate mogul Jared Kushner and the tenants at 118 E. Fourth St. Residents of the East Village walk-up building claim that the landlord has continued to deny them livable conditions, and have demanded the immediate restoration of essential services, including gas, heat and plumbing.

The renovations of the tenement’s apartments and the subsequent unsafe living conditions has been an issue for tenants since 2012. The most recent case involves residents’ claims that a gas outage throughout the building has deprived them of cooking gas since October 2015. But the problems have been going on longer than that, they say.

Back in 2013, Kushner spent upward of $200 million to buy more than 25 East Village properties. Among them was 118 E. Fourth St., which he purchased from notorious developer Ben Shaoul as part of a $49 million deal that included six other buildings.

The buildings are currently operated by Westminster Management, a subsidiary of Kushner Companies. For a year and a half, Westminster has failed to address numerous claims tenants have made about the conditions at No. 118, tenants charge.

“My bathroom ceiling has collapsed five times due to a leak in my neighbor’s sink that they just wouldn’t fix,” said Jennifer Hengen, a tenant in the building for more than 20 years. “They’ll just patch the pipe or hole, not tackle the root of the problem. Rusty water dripped from two holes in my ceiling for a year and a half before management called the plumber. Is this harassment or neglect?”

David DuPuis, an upstairs neighbor of hers, has lived in the building since 1983. He said that, in addition to the leak, which stemmed from his plumbing, a fire also started in Hengen’s ceiling due to faulty wiring, and the damage has only recently been addressed.

“They installed new wiring last week, and rebuilt some of the walls that were destroyed while they were searching for the cause,” DuPuis said. “It took over a year and a half, and a lawsuit, and six months of no gas, for them to actually fix things in the last two weeks.”

He claimed that the firefighters who came to address the blaze and the electricians who rewired the ceiling advised residents to move out because the place was in such bad shape.

DuPuis, an active member of the building’s tenants association, said that solidarity was the only way to force results in this case.

“We set up a private Google group back in 2012, so when Shaoul was tearing down the building we could post updates,” he said. “We would keep an eye on people’s apartments when they weren’t home. Management would always be coming and showing apartments and forget to lock the door on their way out.”

The Cooper Square Committee and MFY Legal Services are supporting the tenants’ fight against their high-profile landlord, who also publishes the New York Observer and is Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

Tenants said that after Kushner bought the E. Fourth St. building three years ago, Westminster kept it in pretty good shape for six months while showing the place to investors. After fixing — at least cosmetically — some of the serious issues depicted in the tenant association’s blog, “Occupy E. 4th St.,” management removed public garbage containers, which resulted in piles of trash in the courtyard, leading to a rat infestation lasting almost a year.

According to Brandon Kielbasa from the Cooper Square Committee, the total number of unaddressed violations in the building is currently 35, with eight outstanding class C, or immediately hazardous, violations. Attempts have been made to hold the landlord in contempt of court, but because he is not listed by name as the building’s owner, Kushner’s lawyers have insisted that his name be stricken from the case.

Kielbasa believes it’s an attempt by the landlord to distance himself from the issues at No. 118.

“Removing him from the case protects him from the possibility of being held in contempt of court,” the activist said. “But the other reps listed on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s records for the building could still face that.”

Court was adjourned last Thursday with the contempt motion left to be argued later. In a last-minute protest, Kushner’s lawyers stated that they had confused this case with another one against him for not providing heat at 118 E. Fourth St. In the end, all parties ultimately agreed to reconvene March 22.

In a statement a spokesperson for Westminster Management said, “Regretfully, the gas at 118 E. Fourth St. was shut off by Con Ed due to safety concerns from residents last October. That turn-off caused loss of heat, hot water and cooking gas in the building on Oct. 12. We secured expedited approval from the Department of Buildings, made necessary gas line repairs, and restored heat and hot water on Oct. 21, once Con Ed was able to inspect the new gas line. Currently, nearly all of the building’s cooking gas has been restored, and we are actively working to safely ensure that the entire building has cooking gas. At the same time, we have recently taken a number of actions to address tenant concerns, including providing additional trash bins to accommodate garbage overflow; engaging an exterminating contractor to provide a complete building evaluation; and working with an electrician to ensure equipment is properly installed and maintained. Westminster Management takes complaints from residents seriously and we are committed to strengthening our management-tenant relationship.”

The original version of this article did not have the statement from Westminster Management.