(Reuters) - A New York tenants rights group and local politician said on Monday they would launch an investigation into the real estate company formerly headed by Jared Kushner, a top aide to President Donald Trump, over alleged falsification of building permits.
The group and the politician, a city councilman, said they had uncovered evidence that Kushner Companies, the developer headed by Kushner until early last year, had falsified more than 80 work permits involving 34 buildings in New York.
They made the allegations at a press conference in front of the 41-story tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan controlled by the Kushner Companies. The tower has been at the center of potential conflicts of interest involving Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law.
Aaron Carr, executive director of Housing Rights Initiative, said the company failed to disclose the existence of rent-stabilized units in buildings, a move that allowed it to skirt tighter oversight during renovations and harass tenants.
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Carr also accused the company of using construction as a means to harass tenants with rent controls and force them to leave. The tactics, employed by other landlords, have led to a significant drop in affordable housing in the city, he said.
"This is not a clerical error. This is a window into the Kushner Companies' business practices," Carr said. "This is just the tip of a very dirty iceberg."
The group's allegations were first reported by the Associated Press on Sunday.
Christine Taylor, spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, said the company values its tenants, takes its legal and ethical responsibilities seriously, corrects mistakes, and would not intentionally falsify any filings in order to harass tenants.
"The investigation is trying to create an issue where none exists," she said.
Ritchie Torres, who chairs a city council committee on public housing, told the press conference that there was a direct link between the falsification of permits and the decline in affordable housing in New York.
Torres said the investigation would lead to the publication of a report, that he would work to pass legislation to bolster oversight of the permitting process and would make a criminal referral if there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Torres said he was in confidential talks with prosecutors, but did not say which ones. He said any criminal referral would be to either the district attorney or the state attorney general.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne and Herb Lash in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)