Jared Kushner’s real estate holdings in Maryland earn his companies $30 million in profits, but that hasn’t stopped him from going after the poor people who live in the often sub-standard properties by utilizing what is termed “body attachments,” which is a euphemism for arrest.
The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Kushner companies, which own 17 apartment complexes in Maryland, have sought the arrest of 105 former tenants for failing to appear in court to face charges of unpaid debt. Court records show that 20 former Kushner tenants have been arrested.
An analysis of Maryland District Court records shows that the Kushner companies have used this tactic more than any other landlord in the state since 2013 – the first full year the companies operated in Maryland. Since that time, Kushner affiliated companies have filed at minimum 1,250 legal actions and have reaped $5.4 million in judgments against tenants who owed an average of $4,400. That figure includes the original debt, court costs, legal fees and interest.
Take the case of Priscilla Moreno. The mother of three is a Baltimore County school bus driver who also works part time in video production. She had been living in Whispering Woods, a 524 unit Kushner-owned property in Middle River. She decided to move out when she received a federal voucher that she felt would improve her housing situation. In 2015, she got hit with a $7,100 judgment on an original debt of $4,637.76. Moreno disputes the original amount, saying she was never credited for her security deposit and was charged for normal wear and tear like carpet cleaning. Even though Moreno twice told the court she had never received notices to appear after moving out of Whispering Woods, a Baltimore County District Court judge approved the body attachment order last July. Terrified she would be arrested, Moreno declared bankruptcy and narrowly escaped being arrested and thrown into what amounts to debtors’ prison.
Moreno’s bankruptcy paperwork was filed on November 28 – the same day Ivanka Trump tweeted a Forbes magazine cover calling her husband “American’s new power broker.” Forbes estimates his family’s net worth at $2 billion.
According to officials within the Kushner organization, body attachments are used only as a last resort. And sure, they are within state law for doing so. But as critics have said, it amounts to arresting and jailing people for the terrible offense of being poor.
In many instances, the people in question have moved from the properties and said they were not even aware they had been summoned to court.
Democratic State Senator William C. Smith from Montgomery County said, “People are being arrested for a debt that they may not even be aware of, or for a court date they may not have been aware of.” He went on to say that being arrested has a “devastating affect.”
Smith introduced legislation this year in the General Assembly to limit body attachments, and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh wrote in support of the bill. But the bill found little support in the legislature, and Smith was forced to withdraw the measure. He said that Senator H. Wayne Norman Jr., a Harford County Republican, was his “biggest opponent” on the bill. Norman is an attorney who represents landlords.
Frosh, who has advocated for limitations on body attachments, told the Sun that judges in small claims court may act on informal evidence from landlords regarding the alleged debt and their attempts to notify those tenants about upcoming hearings. He and others say that many times, those tenants have moved and their debt has been sold to another company whose name they don’t recognize.
The Kushner companies own almost 9,000 units in Maryland, most of them in Baltimore County.
Marceline White is the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. She counters the argument that landlords need the option of body attachments, particularly small landlords, citing that it is large companies that are the main source of body attachment requests.
“When you realize that in these cases, it’s a multimillionaire who is the son-in-law of the president, it begs the question whether they should be spending all this time and money to pursue people who have fallen behind,” White said.
“Obviously, people should be paying their bills. But arresting someone years after seems fairly extreme.”
Amy Hennen, an attorney with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, said. “I worked for a firm that did collection work and it had a policy against requesting body attachments. They don’t want to risk the public relations issue.”
Hennen says that for a firm receiving funding from HUD and financing from Freddie Mac, garnishing wages and seeking arrests is “harsh.”
“A few hundred dollars can be the difference between making it and collapsing,” she said. “But certainly the body attachment is probably the worst, because we’re talking about what is effectively a debtors’ prison, which is something out of Charles Dickens.”
This is a followup to a previously published Liberals Unite article.
Ann Werner is the author of thrillers and other things. Show her some love and check out her books!
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