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One day in 2014, I came home to find my stove sitting squarely in the middle of my living room. With all my furniture arranged around the perimeter of the room, the appliance looked like a ship run aground at low tide. In its wake was a void in the corner of my kitchen and jagged, fist-sized holes where its pipes had been torn from the wall.

This sight was less of a shock than you’d think. The underlings of my building’s management company, Westminster City Living, regularly entered my apartment without my consent, ostensibly to work on restoring the building’s cooking gas, which hadn’t worked since I’d moved in two months prior. Every time I unlocked my front door, I wondered what incompetent workers had left in my apartment while I’d been gone.

On that day, the unmoored stove wasn’t the only unsightly surprise the Westminster workers had left for me. In my bathroom, I discovered, to my jaw-dropping horror, the ultimate affront: an unflushed shit.

I discovered, to my jaw-dropping horror, the ultimate affront: an unflushed shit.

I’d grown used to the dirty boot prints tracked around my kitchen, the gaping holes drilled into the ceiling above my fridge, the power tools left on the counter next to my cereal. But this — this foul-smelling present floating in my toilet? This was too much. I cursed the owner of Westminster, the man whom I ultimately held responsible for my year of renter hell: Jared Kushner.


Before Kushner was shorthand for awkwardness both silent and spoken, the name was synonymous with real estate.

The forefather of the Kushner dynasty, Joseph Kushner, emigrated from Belarus and was a member of what came to be known as the “Holocaust Builders,” a group of World War II survivors who found success doing construction and real estate development in New Jersey. In 1985, Joseph and his son Charles started a small real estate firm, Kushner Companies. When Joseph died nine months later, Charles assumed control of the company’s assets, which included 4,000 apartments that Joseph had built.

By the early 2000s, Charles, equally brash and charming, was a titanic figure in American business. He’d turned Kushner Companies into a billion-dollar real estate empire with nearly 25,000 apartments across the Mid-Atlantic and himself into one of the most powerful moguls in the country. Charles wielded influence over nearly every sphere of society in his home state and New York City, including the religious (he was a generous benefactor to Jewish causes), the political (he donated millions to prominent Democrats), and the social (he was a fixture of gossip rags and saw himself as a Jewish Kennedy).

But in 2005, Charles Kushner was given a two-year prison sentence for pleading guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal political donations. The crimes were “crimes of greed, power, and excess,” said then–U.S. attorney Chris Christie, who told the New York Times that the sentencing “shows that no matter how rich and powerful you are in this state you will be prosecuted and punished for the crimes you commit.” (Oh, the irony…)

Bending over the bathroom sink meant leaving the door open and sticking my butt out into the room that functioned as our kitchen, living room, and dining room.

With Charles in prison, his son Jared, then just 24, was entrusted with control of Kushner Companies. Jared’s purview included both Westminster Management, the subsidiary that oversees Kushner Companies’ residential buildings in five states (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio), and Westminster City Living, the property management arm for residences in New York City. Jared began buying up real estate in desirable, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. He spent $130 million on 17 walk-up apartment buildings in the East Village, then $49 million on seven more. He bought 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg for $275 million. And in January 2014, he spent $17 million on 170–174 East Second Street, two buildings in the East Village.

Seven months later, in August 2014, I signed a one-year lease with my college friend Leo on a two-bedroom, second-floor walk-up at 170 East Second Street. If most recent graduates’ first apartments in New York City are shoeboxes, mine was a pricey, shiny diorama. With my parents’ generous help, I paid $1,750 a month for my half of the rent, a number that embarrasses me now. The apartment looked meticulously built, so freshly renovated that the appliances were still plastic-wrapped and the floors still lustrous when I moved in, but it was comically small. Its slitlike windows allowed in as much light in the morning as at night. My bedroom fit only a skinny IKEA dresser and a cheap metal bed frame; Leo had a Murphy bed that I thought would swallow him alive like a Venus flytrap. Bending over the bathroom sink meant leaving the door open and sticking my butt out into the room that functioned as our kitchen, living room, and dining room.

We had little privacy, even less space, and, because of the not-quite-finished renovations, no cooking gas. Westminster promised that the construction would be done and the gas restored within a couple months. The company had even offered a free month’s rent, which — sure, whatever, no problem. Neither Leo nor I could cook much beyond scrambled eggs anyway, and we figured we could subsist on sandwiches and Seamless.

If only I knew then what I, and thousands of other New Yorkers, know now: that living in an apartment owned by Kushner Companies is an absolute, unequivocal, never-ending hell.


The problems began immediately.

Every weekday, I was jolted awake by my bed vibrating from the construction that began before 8 a.m. and ended long after sundown. The ceaseless drilling forced Leo, a professional cellist who had planned to practice at home, to install expensive soundproofing foam around his bedroom. As for me: Jackhammers pierced my dreams.

On September 17, a month after we moved in, Westminster notified me that a plumber would be coming to my apartment tomorrow to cut holes in the wall — something to do with the gas. Fine. On September 18, I stayed home from my internship, which paid me by the hour, to deal with the plumber, but no plumber showed up. Instead, what arrived was the exact same email as the day before — now reading, inexplicably, “tomorrow, September 18.” I was reminded, in an unpleasant way, of a motivational slogan that was once my phone background: “Yesterday you said tomorrow.”

Despite its gleaming veneer of newness, my washing machine was broken. It filled with water on its inaugural use and never drained again. After weeks of pleading with Westminster to fix it, a worker showed up, unannounced, on my doorstep. He was here to fix the appliance problem, he said. Leo and I looked at him as if he’d descended from the sky. We invited him in, warning him not to open the front-loading washing machine — after a month of stagnation, the water in it had grown sickeningly gray and translucent. But he dismissed us with a wave of one meaty hand and yanked open the appliance’s door with the other. Gallons of fetid water gushed onto the floor before the worker managed to slam it shut. His apology was as half-assed as the effort he put into mopping up the mess. The smell of a wet, swampy dog lingered in my apartment for days.

In October, murky water began spurting from my bathroom wall. The wallpaper cracked and distended before it burst like over-blown bubble gum, exposing the drywall behind it and short-circuiting the bathroom’s light and only outlet. For days, I shaved in the dark, more fearful of being electrocuted than missing some hairs under my jaw.

My water problems, however, were nothing compared to those of other tenants. Kushner Companies has a history of using coercion, bullying, and “construction as harassment” to force tenants out, gut renovate the empty apartments, raise the rent, and make way for high-paying condo buyers. In fact, Kushner Companies’ apathy for its tenants’ well-being borders on hostility.

Elsewhere in my building, workers drilled a wide hole directly above one tenant’s shower, she told me, dripping dirty water onto her for a month. Residents Mark Fritsche, Mary Ann Siwek, and Christine Davis have all endured ceiling collapses due to pipe leaks — including, in Davis’ case, a sewage pipe. Siwek told the Daily News, “The trauma of having your bathroom collapse in the middle of the night is the most frightening experience.”

For a week straight at Kushner-owned 201 East Second Street, brown water came out of “everyone’s faucet,” former tenant Alessandro Harabin told me recently. “I know this because all the neighbors on my floor would talk about it — we had a whole email thread.” He showered at the gym and was forced to buy bottled drinking water.

At 331 East Ninth Street, “dirty liquids emanat[ed] from the ceiling and [fell] onto the floors and bedding, causing unsightly stains and foul odors,” according to former tenant Hannah Barr. Her washer/dryer once leaked so much water that it set off the fire alarm. In the same building, three days before Thanksgiving in 2013, contractors renovating the apartment above Uta Winkler’s ruptured a pipe, sending 19,000 gallons of water — “similar to the intensity of water released from an open fire hydrant,” she said in a lawsuit filed in 2016 — gushing through her ceiling. Westminster’s recompense was meager to the point of insult, offering to pay for Winkler to stay two nights — two! — in a hotel. Two weeks later, a worker crashed through her ceiling and landed on her bed.


Communicating with Westminster, I learned, was a game whose outcome was predetermined. The loser was always me, the tenant. They’d notify me that workers, or business representatives, or real estate agents, or whoever would be coming to my apartment next week, or tomorrow morning, or in three hours, but then no one would show up. They’d give advance warning about a utility shutoff; nothing would happen at the scheduled time, and hours or days later the water would suddenly stop running or the lights would go out, and hours after that they’d retroactively announce the shutoff in an all-caps email, as if the digital equivalent of yelling would help me see that I couldn’t see inside my apartment.

Successive email updates from Westminster had the nauseating pall of an Escherian carousel. “We are working to restore” the cooking gas, they wrote. “Progress continues.” “We are still completing the work.” “We will be continuing the work.” “We are progressing nicely.” “We are closing in on the final stages of restoring the gas.” Then, three weeks later: “We are closing in on the final stages of the project.” Westminster once promised that a “more fulsome update” regarding the cooking gas would come next week. It was tragicomic, I thought, that while fulsome can mean “of large size or quantity,” its first definition is “flattering to an excessive degree.”

The update that arrived a week later—that the building had failed the Department of Buildings’ cooking gas inspection—felt as inevitable as death.


For much of the winter, I didn’t even have heat. Well, technically, I did — but turning it on made my apartment reek of gas and set off the carbon monoxide detector. Did I want to freeze in silence or be toasty while a shrill alarm battered my ears and noxious gas filled my lungs? Leo moved back in with his Manhattanite parents for those months, but I had nowhere to go. A space heater lent by a pitying colleague became a friend, a lifeline, an inanimate object that I refused to let stray from me. On cold nights, I went to sleep wearing a hat, gloves, and parka, with the space heater sitting on my bedside table.

‘We’re going to show your apartment in a few hours. No? No worries, we’ll let ourselves in.’

Tenants’ physical safety has never been a priority of Kushner Companies. Jennifer Hengen’s ceiling, at 118 East Fourth Street, collapsed five times. Harabin once stabbed his hand on a rusty nail sticking out of the wall after slipping on vomit left on the stairs. “Oh, yeah, I was bleeding,” he told me. “I had to go to the hospital, get it disinfected, and get two stitches.” Winkler developed respiratory problems — including, for six weeks in January 2014, pneumonia — from an infestation of black mold that grew after her apartment flooded. And every tenant I spoke to mentioned the layer of construction-induced dust that perpetually covered everything from their floors to the clothes in their wardrobes. This was a mere nuisance for me, but other tenants, like Siwek, developed coughing and itching problems. The dust at 184 Kent Avenue was allegedly toxic and carcinogenic, containing dangerous levels of lead and crystalline silica. Our ability to breathe, that most basic and crucial of bodily functions, wasn’t guaranteed. We were living in a noxious, noisy dust bowl.


Westminster is a black hole. Among former and current tenants of Kushner-owned buildings — including every one of the six residents I spoke to — the most common complaint is that Westminster would repeatedly disregard emails and phone calls, especially regarding problems of the company’s own creation. Fittingly, they didn’t respond to my request for comment for this article.

Westminster has also failed to disclose — or has lied about — crucial information regarding its buildings. The company hid from Barr the fact that a 10-month construction project was set to begin within weeks of her moving in. A former neighbor of mine said they made no mention of the gas issue while “showcasing the kitchen as a big amenity” in an effort to sell her on the apartment. She only learned the building had no cooking gas after she’d already moved in, when it was too late to negotiate the rent.

Just as common as Westminster’s virtual silence, however, was its unasked-for physical presence: in the wrong place (my apartment) at the wrong time (always). In the spring, when I was bedridden while recovering from knee surgery, workers came and went so frequently that I felt like I had a dozen roommates whose names I never knew; whom I was powerless to tell to shut up; who, when they weren’t loitering inside my home, were loitering right below my window or outside my front door.

Tenants of other Kushner-owned buildings told me they had similar experiences of workers using private apartments as if they had open-door policies. But we had other roommates, too: vermin. So many mice, rats, and cockroaches that DJ Khaled’s catchphrase “another one” could’ve been a mantra. Mice used the half-dozen holes in my walls, which were never covered, as thoroughfares. At 156 Sullivan Street, rats were “running around all over the place,” an anonymous tenant said. A video shot in April 2017 by a tenant of an East Fourth Street apartment shows six rats feasting on food scattered around the building’s garbage cans


As I crawled toward the end of my lease, feeling like one of those cartoon characters on hand and knee in the middle of a desert, Westminster began emailing me at all hours about showing my apartment to potential tenants. They asked for neither permission nor forgiveness. The nonconsensual charade — We’re going to show your apartment in a few hours. No? No worries, we’ll let ourselves in. — was a regular feature of my summer. “If I do not hear from you,” one email concluded, “I will assume it is ok to enter your apartment.” The email was sent at 9 p.m. on a Saturday — with, hilariously, the salutation “Good afternoon.”

Even after I’d moved from my Kushner-owned East Village hellhole to a rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn, the emails from Westminster continued unabated. “We will be showing your apartment tomorrow,” they wrote.

I didn’t respond.

Cypress Dubin, one of my former neighbors, said many residents moved out because they felt “intimidated.” Sabine Anton, who recently left 184 Kent Avenue and documented the living conditions there, said Westminster attacked tenants with piles of yellow eviction notices. “When it comes from such a big law firm, from such a powerful person, a lot of people just take their stuff and leave,” she said. “They’ll threaten the hell out of you.” When Anton and her neighbors first met to discuss filing a lawsuit against Kushner, most people’s questions were about whether they’d have to give their name and whether they’d be able to rent in the city again. “That’s why there’s only 20 [plaintiffs],” Anton said. In a building with 338 apartments, “20 is nothing.”

Anton grew up in East Berlin and spent 18 months in a Stasi prison for distributing propaganda. Memories of that experience, she told me, came rushing back when she saw how fearful her neighbors were of Kushner Companies. “It reminds me very much of my past,” she said. “People are so scared. They don’t want to take on somebody like Kushner.”

Some brave tenants, however, do. Their battles with Kushner Companies often start with not coughing up their money. The restaurant La Nonna, for instance, at 184 Kent Avenue, began withholding rent in February 2017. Kushner sued in housing court, saying the restaurant owed $72,783 in back rent; La Nonna’s countersuit argued that the scaffolding and construction, which resulted in “excessive and unreasonable noise within the premises,” were hurting its business. Winkler, on East Ninth Street, withheld her monthly rent from May 2014 to January 2015. Kushner Companies sued her for the unpaid rent; she countersued, and the case is ongoing.

In keeping with the nefarious treatment of its tenants, Kushner Companies continues to flout the law. Last year, it was sued for screwing tenants out of rent-stabilized leases. Last month, the Associated Press reported that Kushner Company has amassed more than $500,000 in unpaid fines for sanitation and building violations, many of which came when Kushner himself was still CEO.

Even the law firm that once defended the company from disgruntled tenants has turned against it. Cornicello, Tendler & Baumel-Cornicello is suing Kushner Companies for $102,000 in unpaid legal fees.


At the end of our conversation on Anton’s terrace, looking out over mounds of trash and a loudly active construction site, she mused about a smaller company like Westminster acting with the same moral compass as its “big boss” — in this case, Jared Kushner. “I’m not surprised,” she said.

“The way people get cheated out of their rights by the super rich in this country is just…,” she paused, searching for the right words. “It’s out of this world.”