By Reuven Blau and Dale W. Eisinger
The probe will be handled by the New York State Homes and Community Renewal's tenant Protection Unit, the agency announced Monday.
Investigators will determine if Kushner Cos. violated New York's housing law that prohibits landlords from harassing rent-stabilized tenants to force them out and turn the units into luxury condos.
"Gov. Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind and we will aggressively take on landlords who try to intimidate people out of their homes," said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.
A group of 19 rent-stabilized tenants at 18 Kent Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, contend they were subjected to dangerous and unsanitary conditions starting in June 2015.
The tenants -- who are young artists, professionals and tech employees -- say the construction at the Austin Nicholas House unleashed dangerous toxins such as lead into the air, according to a lawsuit dated July 15.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Housing Rights Initiative announced the filing of a $10 million suit against the company at Kings County Supreme Court.
"Brooklyn has become ground zero for the displacement that is taking place," Adams declared. "And it should not take a nonprofit to identify and stop the illegal profit that is taking place by forcefully removing tenants from their homes."
Aaron Carr, executive director of Housing Rights Initiative, called Kushner a "gambler."
"The best way to think of Kushner Companies is not as a landlord, but as a gambler masquerading in a city that allows it to act with virtual impunity," he said. "Kushner Companies is not just a window into landlord malfeasance. It is a window into government dysfunction."
Chris Taylor, a Kushner Cos. spokeswoman, denies any harassment occurred at the 338-unit building. She noted that no major construction has happened at the building since December 2017.
"We have asked for a meeting with the governor's office to explain the truth behind the sensational misrepresentations stated in the lawsuit," she added.
Also Monday, Zephyr Teachout, who is running for state Attorney General, said she wouldn't take political contributions from LLCs, the real estate lobby or the Real Estate Board of New York.
"I will be investigating them instead," she said during a press conference in front of the Kushner property in Williamsburg.
"We have a crisis in our state that isn't going away," Teachout said. "Deep down what's going on is the unbelievably wealthy and well-connected is using their power to push out the most vulnerable people.
"The elderly, people who are sick, people who are disabled, those are people who are hurt," she added. "And REBNY, Kushner, the real estate lobby, they're all counting on their belief that people don't know their own rights well enough that they're not going to bring these criminal cases."
Teachout added she wants to "beef up...the criminal real estate subdivision so housing companies are tried both in criminal and civil courts."
"We gotta go after them criminally, not just civilly," she said.
A REBNY spokesman defended Kushner Cos. and the real estate industry.
"A government investigation and lawsuit have been launched that will determine the validity of the allegations," said REBNY spokesman Jamie McShane. The property owner has denied the allegations. Wild rhetoric from political candidates will not help with the resolution of the matter."
The state's Tenant Protection Unit was created in 2012 to protect rent-stabilized renters.
"TPU has conducted hundreds of investigations into tenant harassment. Its enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 68,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of more than $4.5 million in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings," the agency said.
Rent-regulated regulated tenants who want to file a complaint can call (718) 739-6400 or visit TPUinfo@nyshcr.org
(c)2018 New York Daily News