NEW YORK – A day after The Associated Press reported the Kushner family real estate firm owes over a half-million dollars in unpaid fines to New York City, an official is calling for a probe into the larger problem of why a whopping $1.5 billion fines has gone uncollected from landlords and others across the city.
Councilman Ritchie Torres and the head of a tenant watchdog group sent a letter to the Department of Investigation on Tuesday calling for a probe into the city's "embarrassingly inept" efforts to make "delinquents" pay up.
"Whether one is evading debt or taxes, the effect is the same: delinquents, like Kushner Companies, are evading their obligations to the city and robbing the public of finite resources that could shore up an increasingly decrepit public infrastructure," wrote Torres and co-author Aaron Carr, founder of tenant watchdog Housing Rights Initiative, which compiled the Kushner fines and shared them with the AP.
For example, the $1.5 billion would be enough to buy more than 1,000 subway cars, which if placed end to end would stretch for a dozen miles.
The city agency responsible for collecting fines, the Department of Finance, said in statement that it is looking into the Kushner bill and that it has gotten better at collecting fines recently.
"We take the issue of non-payment seriously and have committed resources and developed processes to ensure that we are effectively collecting fines," it said, "increasing our rate by 61 percent over the last four years."
Torres and Carr say part of the problem is that if fines go unpaid for eight years, they "expire" and are wiped off the books. In the three fiscal years through June 2017, $262 million in fines disappeared in this way.
As for the Kushner fines, the AP report says $350,000 stretched over five years and ranged from seemingly minor, "loose rubbish" violations, to more serious failures such as not notifying the city of construction work that could disturb asbestos. Another $210,000 was issued last month for false construction documents. Most of the violations happened when presidential adviser Jared Kushner was CEO.
The Kushner Cos. say it has been targeted by the city for political reasons and many of the violations are "frivolous." It added that many of the violations are actually the fault of tenants illegally renting their apartments through Airbnb and businesses in its buildings not cleaning up properly.
The latest fine for $210,000 came after an AP report in March that showed the Kushner Cos. filed documents claiming it had no low-paying, rent-stabilized tenants when, in fact, it had hundreds. That allowed the company to avoid stricter city oversight designed to keep landlords from using construction work to make life miserable for the low-paying tenants and get them to leave.
The Kushner Cos. has said the documents were filled out by third parties, any mistakes were quickly fixed and that it will fight the fine in court. Payment is not due until that court fight is settled.