By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has opened a probe into allegations that the real estate firm once led by U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner harassed tenants at one of its largest residential buildings.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal on Monday said its tenant protection unit would investigate alleged abuses by Kushner Companies toward tenants at the 338-unit Austin Nichols House in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The probe was announced one day after 20 current and former tenants filed a $10 million lawsuit accusing the Kushner firm of using construction crews to create "intolerable" conditions at the building, including exposure to toxins and dust, rodent infestation, mold and the loss of hot water.

 

They said the firm did this to drive out rent-stabilized tenants and transform the building into a luxury condominium.

Cuomo, a Democrat seeking his third term as governor, and other state officials have pursued a wide array of lawsuits and probes into Trump, a Republican, and his family businesses.

"Governor Cuomo has zero tolerance for tenant abuse of any kind," RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of the state housing agency, said in a statement.

Emily Wolf, general counsel for Kushner Cos, said the firm "respects and values its tenants" and was confident the probe would find no harassment or unsafe conditions.

"We understand the current political environment," Wolf said in an email. "Sadly, we are caught in the middle and continue to have baseless and meritless claims filed against us."

The firm plans to defend against the lawsuit, saying tenants were never pressured to leave and were kept informed about the construction, which it said was completed properly.

Jared Kushner is now a Trump adviser and is not a defendant.

The Kushner firm was part of a venture that in 2015 paid $275 million for the landmarked Williamsburg building.

Located at 184 Kent Avenue overlooking the East River and Manhattan, the century-old building was once a warehouse for Wild Turkey bourbon before being converted into luxury rentals.

New York limits the amounts by which landlords can raise rents each year for rent-stabilized tenants.

Sunday's lawsuit was supported by the Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants rights group.

It accused the Kushner firm in March of falsifying work permits to conceal rent-regulated units at 34 buildings, and avoid potentially stricter oversight of construction crews during renovations.

New York City's Department of Buildings opened a related probe the same month.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler, Marguerita Choy and Richard Chang)

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